Farewell, King Henry
Tom Peacock profiles ten-time champion trainer Sir Henry Cecil who has died aged 70.
Last Updated: 11/06/13 6:12pm
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.
Cecil was born into racing and frequently claimed he would have been able to do nothing else.
At 21, he started off as assistant to his stepfather, the 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.
It would take too much space to rattle though many more big names, but other landmarks include 1987 when he trained a record number of winners (180) and was also the first to break the £1million 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, he was loved far more than Sir Michael Stoute or Aidan O'Brien will ever be.
His endless patience with temperamental fillies was legendary, as he waited for them to peak.
He had a unique charm missing elsewhere in the sport - which other top trainer tended to his obscure varieties of peas and roses in his garden with as much care he did his blue-blooded string? Or collected lead soldiers?
And the best thing of all was that he was genuinely surprised at the incredible affection he received.
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. David, who also had a career as a trainer, was born 10 minutes after his sibling.
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. Not perhaps back to the good old days just at that point, but 25 British winners, although his best for a few seasons, did not tell the whole story.
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.
Cecil's Group One flag, an heirloom apparently given to an ancestor by Robert the Bruce in 1323, was back flying in Newmarket.
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 prompted scenes of jubilation amongst the crowds, with the reception Cecil received leaving him, and plenty of others too, visibly moved.
That win 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 employed his usual calm and patient approach, nursing 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 the Champion Stakes followed, after which he retired to stud with an unblemished 14-race record.
It is truly heartbreaking Cecil, who was knighted by the Queen in 2011, will not be able to see the full extent of Frankel's impact on the racing and breeding worlds in years to come, but the colt will stand as an excellent tribute to Cecil's abilities.
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.