Sir Henry Cecil is in my opinion one of the finest trainers to grace the sport of Kings, he had an unrivalled ability to think outside the box, to look at a thoroughbred through his own eyes and most of all seeing something the rest of the world had missed. Crowned champion flat trainer on 10 separate occasions amassing 25 classic winners along the way. Henry Cecil had a fantastic career and I will do my best to make this a fitting tribute to a legend who never followed anything other than gut instinct.
Henry Cecil was born on 11th January 1943 and passed away on the 11th June 2013. During his early years from 1964-1968 Henry worked as an assistant at his stepfathers Freemason Lodge stable. He took out his own training license in 1969 and had his first taste of success as a trainer on the 17th May at Ripon as Celestial Cloud took him into the winners enclosure, two months later he returned to the winners enclosure as Wolver Hollow won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown bringing him his first Group 1 winner.
In 1970 he had his first winner at Royal Ascot when Parthenon won the Queen Alexandria Stakes. During the early part of his career Henry had the support of Lord Howard de walden, who was a well reputed owner and breeder of racehorses. However it was 1973 before Henry tasted success in a Classic and that came in the shape of Cloonagh who won the Irish 1,000 Guineas. Henry had to wait a whole 2 seasons before winning his first English Classic with Bolkonski in the 2,000 Guineas in 1975.
Behind the scenes a lot was going on at this point in Henry’s career, he had just taken over the running of Warren Place in Newmarket from Sir Noel Murless, who was the father of Henry’s first wife.
Henry won the 1,000 Guineas a further 3 times and the 2,000 Guineas once before scooping up his first Epsom Derby win with Slip Anchor in 1985. At this stage Henry had won the Champion Trainer title 5 times and had a reputation for making winning Classics look easy. Between 1985 and 1993 Henry had added another 5 Champion Trainer title’s to his already bulging cabinet of trophy’s. A period of uncertainty followed seeing some influential people in Henry’s life pass away these include Louis Freedman, Jim Joel and Lord Howard de Walden. Henry’s wife and Head Lad Paddy Rudkin both left, and his relationship with Sheik Mohammed broke down after the owner removed 40 horses in training from Cecil’s Yard.
Henry had to wait until 1999 for his next major achievement he won 3 out of the 5 Classics and was 2nd in the other two that year. From July 2000 to October 2006 Henry didn’t have a single Group 1 winner, and only had a handful of winners in 2005, with his yard shrinking from 200 horses to just about 50 had taken its toll, with his 2nd marriage breaking up and the passing of his twin brother from cancer. We later found out Henry himself was undergoing treatment for stomach cancer in 2006, Henry had hinted of retirement and who could blame him for considering the option after everything he has achieved and fought for. But to everyone’s amazement Henry Cecil chose to carry on with the only thing he knows and in 2006 was rewarded when Light Shift won the Oaks to give him his 24th English Classic victory.
It wasn’t until late 2010 when we got a glimpse of what would put Sir Henry Cecil in the racing world’s hall of fame, the arrival of Frankel who won the Royal Lodge Stakes and the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. Although this was just the beginning of what I can only describe as a stroke of training genius from Henry.
Frankel went on to win the Greenham Stakes, 2,000 Guineas, the St James Palace Stakes at Ascot, The Sussex Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in 2011 ending the season undefeated.
Frankel’s performance in the 2,000 Guineas was described as the one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse, Henry himself said after winning the Sussex Stakes that Frankel was the best horse he had ever seen.
Timeform rated Frankel the best horse in the world at 143 at the end of his 3yr old season. As a four year old Frankel won the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury before destroying the field in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot by 11 lengths. Timeform raised his rating to 147 and at that time was the highest rated horse in their history. Frankel went on to win a second Sussex Stakes and stepped up in distance to land the Juddmonte International Stakes at York over 10f. In October 2012 Frankel won the Champion Stakes at Ascot to finish his career undefeated. Henry Cecil said after the race ” He’s The best I’ve ever had, the best I’ve ever seen, I don’t think we will see any better”.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Sir Henry Cecil as much as I have enjoyed writing about his life and achievements, even if his journey was blighted by set backs along the way.
Sir Henry Cecil was a winner and he breathed horse racing with every last breath. He may be gone but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who had the pleasure to meet him.
Written by Charlie Mcgreevy sources of information include Wikipedia and Racing Post online