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INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
Alpinista’s jockey has been a low-key success story in Britain but a win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe would give the rider’s profile an international boost.
Alpinista could be the ticket to new horizons for Luke Morris. Not that the jockey has a mind to leave one of the most respected jobs in British racing, but he does have international ambitions, nonetheless.
On Sunday he will partner the prolific grey mare for his long-time boss Sir Mark Prescott in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Victory in one of the world’s majors would not only raise his profile to the next level but perhaps also open one or two doors to the east that would provide an alternative to the winter staple of ‘all-weather racing’ at Wolverhampton and Southwell.
“I’d like to broaden my horizon, try something new during the winter,” he says. “Obviously the prize money in some of those places in Asia is second to none, so it makes sense to have the ambition to ride over there.”
Morris has close to 2,000 winners in his career so far, he has ridden more than a century of winners in each of the past 11 years, and he has eight Group 1s on the board, thanks to five in tandem with Alpinista. But for each Group 1 day, he puts in plenty of hard yards outside the spotlight: he will warm-up for Sunday’s highlight with a low-grade Saturday night fixture at Dunstall Park.
“I had a spell when I was all-weather champion six times and runner-up a few times as well, and it was the time when we had the two meetings (a day),” he continues. “That was a hard slog, I was riding 1,500 races every year and I’d just like to experience something different because it does get a bit like ‘Groundhog Day’ in the winter here.”
There was talk of Asia from Prescott and Alpinista’s owner-breeder Kirsten Rausing after the G1 Yorkshire Oaks victory last month, that the Japan Cup in November could be an end of season fall-back option. While Morris would relish that chance to ride Tokyo’s ‘galloping track’ in front of a huge crowd, his focus, like his boss’s, is for now locked onto this weekend and the mare’s Longchamp assignment.
Morris is pleased with Alpinista’s preparation. It is Wednesday morning, four days out from the Arc, when he speaks to Asian Racing Report and the five-year-old’s breeze on the Al Bahathri Polytrack, her last before she departs for France, is fresh in his mind.
“Her last breeze is always solo and she felt every bit as good this morning as before York; she felt fresh and in good order, so I’m excited for Sunday now.” he says. “She does all of her work on the Al Bahathri. I don’t think she’s even set a foot on the grass to gallop. I could count on one hand the number of times Sir Mark has worked a horse on grass in the last 11 years or so.
“I think we all feel she’s a better filly when she gets decent ground,” he adds when the subject of a wet forecast for Longchamp is raised. “She didn’t get that ground at all last year; she got the job done on the softer ground because she was just better than her opposition all the time. We would prefer a decent racing surface because this year she’s shown that she’s got a bit more quality on a decent surface.”
Luke Morris steers home Lacan on the Kempton Park all-weather. (Photo by Mark Cranham/Pool via Getty Images)
Luke Morris rides grey mare Alpinista, who made it five Group 1s on the trot in the Yorkshire Oaks. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
A racing heritage
Morris is a nephew of the former jockey Jason Tate – he won a Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot – and a grandson of another jockey, Joe Tate, who went on to work at stables around Newmarket, including Sir Michael Stoute’s and Luca Cumani’s.
He moved to Newmarket when he was ‘six or seven’ and by age 12 he was up with the larks riding work for Michael Bell before heading off to school, and went through his apprenticeship at the trainer’s Fitzroy House stables.
But Morris is nowadays the latest in a short line of stable jockeys – spanning decades – entrusted to hold the reins of the Prescott horses. Before him at Heath House Stables came Seb Sanders and before that George Duffield, as well as the able understudy and yard fixture, Colin Nutter.
Sir Mark is one of the sport’s great figures, a cigar-smoking, sport loving trainer of the old mould; a man of impeccable manners as well as great wit, and a military-style command of his operation which has little tolerance for tardiness. Morris was appointed to the key role at just 22, he is now 34.
“He’s a fantastic boss,” he says. “I think he’s quite firm but he’s very fair and he’s fiercely loyal. Everything is done to the letter. He’s very meticulous in the way he approaches everything, nothing is left to chance, and I think that has rubbed off on me, in that I approach things in a very professional manner. There are absolutely no corners cut, you do everything properly and I think it definitely shows in his results.
“He has some massive owners, Ms Rausing and Cheveley Park, among others, so when you have these horses with beautiful pedigrees, you always have this chance of falling on a good horse. That’s happened on a few occasions for us so hopefully there’ll be a few more to come.”
Morris rode Alpinista’s dam Alwilda 16 times for three of her wins; Sanders and Duffield both rode her granddam, the multiple Group 1-winner Albanova to top level successes; the family is famously prolific.
Luke Morris boots home Alpinista's dam Alwilda at Sandown in 2014. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
“Alpinista is the ultimate pro and seems to just thrive on racing,” he says. “When she gets on the box to go to the races she’s happy and she’s been campaigned very sparingly, which I think has helped her hold her form so well,” he observes.
“She’s a very straightforward filly to deal with. A lot of these good horses can have their quirks or be highly-strung but she’s very straightforward, she’s a good ride and she’s unbelievably tough. I almost feel like we haven’t got to the bottom of her yet. Every time, she always just pulls out that bit more, she only ever does enough in a race.”
But Prescott has only once before had an Arc runner, Foreign Affairs – a 42-1 tilting at windmills job that finished 10th in 2001 – and Morris has never ridden in the race.
Preparing the mind
Longchamp holds no mystery for the rider, though. His first Group 1 win came there on Gilt Edge Girl in the Prix de l’Abbaye of 2010, not long before he joined Prescott; he won that race again on Marsha six years later.
Alpinista is rolling into the Arc with seven wins on the bounce, including a victory over last year’s Arc winner Torquator Tasso in the 2021 G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin. She is a leading contender but her rider says he will not let that fact nor the Arc’s prestige overcome him.
“I’ve ridden on Arc day many times, so I try to almost treat it like it’s any other race,” he says. “I’ll go through the form once the final declarations come out, and I’ll go through the speed maps and how I expect the race to be run. She’s a filly that is fairly tactically versatile so you can ride her any way but I’ll have a look at what I feel will be the best way to ride her, and myself and Sir Mark will discuss how we can best approach it.”
Luke Morris and Marsha win The Qatar Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
But he knows well what the Arc is and what victory would mean. “It’s a massive opportunity, my first time in the big one and I’m very excited,” he admits, and he has been doing extra homework as he follows the Prescott method of being meticulous.
“All this week on the way to the races I’ve been watching past Arcs, back through the last 25 years, so I’m well prepared. There have been times when Frankie (Dettori) for example, when he’s drawn badly, he’s stayed out deep on the track and then tacked in; when you have a bad draw sometimes you have to do things a bit differently, so I’ve been looking at things like that and tried to get a good handle on what can happen in the race.”
Talk of old Arc videos takes him back to his childhood, a nine-year-old boy on the sofa in the family home, watching in awe as Olivier Peslier salutes aboard the French champion Peintre Celebre.
“That was the first Arc I remember,” he says. “Every year when it was the Arc Sunday, we’d settle down to watch the sport. I remember those days of great horses like Peintre Celebre and Helissio, and you do dream that one day you’ll ride one of those good ones.”
On Sunday he will have his chance to ride a good one. Only time will tell if she is good enough to make the dream a reality.
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