Sadly earlier this week, the world of the “sport of kings” was rocked with the news of a truly masterful horseman, Sir Henry Cecil, died. Cecil lost his painful fight against cancer. He was 70 years old.
The word “great” is banded around too easily in sports, but not in the case of Sir Henry. He really was the real deal, winning an amazing 25 English Classics to go with 4 Derbies, 8 Oaks, 3 2000 Guineas, 4 St. Legers and 6 1000 Guineas, as well as an amazing 75 Royal Ascot.
With a week until this year’s meeting, Henry will be in many people’s thoughts. Just imagine if one of his horses won – there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the place. He was an elite trainer who reached the pinnacle of the sport before falling from grace, yet he battled back to the top once more as a result of unnerving grit and determination. He exemplified what it means to be a gentleman.
Henry was loved by all. From the stable boys to the media, he was respected by the entire community. His peers had glowing things to say about him as well. Fellow Newmarket trainer Sir Michael Stoute said, “I do not believe this country has ever produced a better trainer than Henry.” And then there was his toughness and courage which had to be seen to be believed as he continued to supervise the training of his horses. Some man. Top Jockey Frankie Dettori said, “He’s been battling with cancer for a long time and it’s sad news. It makes you reflect on life and what a wonderful person he was. It’s very sad.” Former stable jockey Pat Eddery added, “He was a great trainer, he was a genius and I was very fortunate to have ridden for him and it’s just really sad.”
As a person brought up on racing, this saddens me immensely that he’s gone, but reflecting on the career of this truly genius trainer brings me happy memories. I recall watching Commander In Chief win in the 1993 Derby from Tattenham Corner when I was suppose to be at school. Or when I told everyone I knew Sleepytime was a certainty in the 1997 1000 Guineas – I must have scared the neighbours cheering her home as she hosed up. I could go on and on.
He has trained so many superstars of the turf including Indian Skimmer, Bosra Sham, Reference Point, Oh So Sharp, Realms of Verse, Royal Anthem and Slip Anchor to name a few, but he saved the best for last. I think it was written in the racing stars on the day that superstar thoughbred Frankel and Sir Henry Cecil met. The horse was named after US legendary trainer Bobby Frankel and was owned one of Henry’s biggest supporters and friends, Prince Khalid Abdulla.
Frankel showed signs of brilliance very early on the gallops; he won his first 3 races as a 2-year-old by a combined 23.5 lengths including the Group 2 Royal Lodge, on every occasion looking like a true great. As a 3-year-old, Frankel was trained with such expertise it was an honour to watch. In the 2000 Guineas, Frankel destroyed the field with a display that some called the best ever 2000 Guineas win in the race’s history. As a 4-year-old, he stayed unbeaten making it 14-for-14. His crowning moment was the simply fantastic display in 2012 Queen Anne at the Royal meeting, a truly sublime display that made fellow Group 1 horses look pedestrian and one-paced. What a performance of sheer undiluted power.
As Frankel enjoys his stud life, my mind switches back to Sir Henry who was a massive part of my racing life. Words cannot do justice. Sir Henry, you were the best of the best. The world of racing will always remember you.
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