Farewell to racing legend Cecil

Henry Richard Amherst Cecil was one of the most popular and greatest racehorse trainers of this, or any other, era.

Farewell to racing legend Cecil

Perhaps those newer to the sport will not be able to quite appreciate his level of domination of British racing in the 1980s and 90s, but the records speak for themselves.

A phenomenal 10 champion trainer titles and 25 British Classic winners are the tip of the iceberg, with his 75 victories at Royal Ascot not in danger of being eclipsed any time soon.

The names trip off the tongue; Slip Anchor, Reference Point, Oh So Sharp and Indian Skimmer are just four brilliant horses of yesteryear to graduate with distinction from the Cecil academy in Newmarket.

More recently the exploits of Twice Over, Midday and the incomparable Frankel had propelled him back to where he belonged – at the top table.

At 21, he started off as assistant to his stepfather, Royal trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, and took charge on his retirement in 1968.

A year later he was celebrating his first major success as Wolver Hollow gained the Eclipse at Sandown.

As the years went on, things got exponentially better, recording a first Classic in 1973 when Cloonagh took the Irish 1,000 Guineas, and three years later he was champion trainer for the first time.

Other landmarks include 1987 when he trained a record number of winners (180) and was also the first to break the £1m barrier.

But it is not only his victories on paper that matter, it is the fervent support from the general public that he inspired.

Cecil, with his dapper Hermes ties, Gucci loafers and self-deprecating personality, and with his head characteristically to one side when fielding the attention of the media in post-race interviews, was loved by the racing public.

In the 1980s, when Lester Piggott and then the great American Steve Cauthen were riding for him, he could do little wrong in the eyes of the ordinary punter.

Cecil always had distaste for handicaps and was quite outspoken about the way they could encourage cheating, but his runners were always liked because of the honesty in which they were campaigned.

Of course there were low moments. Sheikh Mohammed removing all of his horses from Cecil’s Warren Place yard spurred him on to greater things for several years but undoubtedly had a big impact in the long run.

Then in 1999 there was the acrimonious split and subsequent out of court settlement with his then retained jockey Kieren Fallon, as well as a five-year ban and large fine for drink-driving.

Personal issues undoubtedly took their toll, and his twin brother, David, died at the age of 57 in 2000.

With the passing of some of his great old owner-breeders, Cecil spent most of the ‘noughties’ in the doldrums. The horse numbers dwindled; the media speculated about imminent retirement. But all of a sudden, in 2006 he was back.

A first Group prize in four years came when the unfurnished Multidimensional won decisively at Deauville. Then in November, a first Group One winner in six as Passage Of Time landed the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

Passage Of Time’s victory seemed to kickstart a Warren Place renaissance, with stablemate Light Shift providing a watershed moment the following year.

Her victory in the Oaks at Epsom was to prove just the tip of the iceberg though, with Twice Over developing into a multiple Group One winner, adding two Champion Stakes and an Eclipse to Cecil’s already admirable tally.

Midday then developed into a top-level competitor and despite Cecil’s well-known ambivalence to American racing, her Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf victory in 2009 doubtless gave him plenty of pleasure.

However, it was the superstar Frankel who was to provide the most fitting finale to what had been a stellar training career. Earmarked for greatness from the very moment he was named in honour of the late American handler Bobby Frankel, the Galileo colt has hardly disappointed.

His runaway 2000 Guineas success was merely the beginning of his legacy and Cecil’s handling of the former tearaway has been nothing short of perfect.

With four Group Ones wins as a three-year-old, it briefly looked as though Frankel’s career could be over when he suffered an injury scare earlier this year.

However, Cecil nursed the colt back to full fitness to once again annihilate his rivals in the Lockinge at Newbury before a spine-tingling 11-length verdict at Royal Ascot.

Victories in the Sussex Stakes, the Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes followed, after which he retired to stud with an unblemished 14-race record.

Cecil was also to find personal happiness in his later years, marrying his one-time secretary Jane McKeown in 2008.

He is survived by two children from his first marriage, Katie and Noel, and son Jake from his second marriage.

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

Execution Time: 0.221 s