THE WORD “genius” is often too freely bandied about, but genuinely best describes a man who saddled 25 British Classic winners and was Champion trainer on no less than 10 occasions. Royal Ascot, where Sir Henry Cecil incidentally saddled an extraordinary 75 winners, will feel a little different next week.
Cecil just wasn’t like other trainers. Not in appearance – a tall, slim, suave, elegantly dressed man, more St James’ Street than Newmarket. Nor in the way he trained – his best horses, meticulously trained to the minute, always seemed to deliver on the big stage.
However, his most admirable quality was his ability to bounce back from adversity. Neither losing the support of Sheikh Mohammed, nor being diagnosed with stomach cancer managed to halt his charge. Both may have slowed him, but up until yesterday, never stopped him.
He was a shy and private man, but also had a terrific sense of humour.
One of my earliest racing memories was approaching Cecil by the paddock at Sandown as a young autograph hunter. He looked down at me with his head tilted to one side, as it always was, and signed the image I’d thrust in front of him. As he walked away, I looked down to see that he’d simply written “bloody awful photograph”!
For all the great horses that passed through his hands over the last 40 years, the best was saved until last.
His flawless handling of Frankel in a record-breaking unbeaten 14 races, ultimately proved to be the pinnacle of his career. Frankel is now widely recognised as the greatest racehorse that ever lived.
How appropriate then, that he should have been trained by the sport’s greatest ever trainer.
SIR HENRY CECIL: 1943-2013
TEN-TIME champion flat racing trainer Sir Henry Cecil died yesterday at the age of 70, following a battle with stomach cancer. Knighted in 2011, Cecil trained 25 British Classic winners, including the unbeaten Frankel and four victors of the Epsom Derby. He was also the leading handler at Royal Ascot with a record 75 successes.