x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Legendary horse trainer Sir Henry Cecil dies at 70

Scottish horse trainer won a record 75 races at Royal Ascot and broke many other records before succumbing to cancer, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Trainer Sir Henry Cecil, the first man in history to pass the mark of a million pounds in prize money, greets Frankel after a 2012 victory. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Trainer Sir Henry Cecil, the first man in history to pass the mark of a million pounds in prize money, greets Frankel after a 2012 victory. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

LONDON // In the Jockey Club rooms in Newmarket, England, hangs a painting of Sir Henry Cecil, who died Tuesday at his base at Warren Hill, Newmarket, aged 70.

It is not a particularly good painting, and one that Cecil did not like: "It made me look as if I would fall out of the picture," he once said.

The morning after his death, nobody needs a painting of Cecil. In the minds of every horse-racing fan, we all have our own, better, images of the legendary trainer.

Focus on the Gucci loafers. The fancy ties, and then zoom in on Royal Ascot, where he picked up a record 75 winners, with that brushed top hat at a jaunty angle because he tilted his head whenever he addressed someone.

But the personal portraits are worthless without racing's collective depiction of a trainer who walked the turf in Europe like a colossus for nearly 20 years.

Before his health began to deteriorate from a bout with cancer in 2006, Cecil accumulated 10 trainers' championships. In 1985, he became the first man in history to pass the mark of a million pounds in prize money, despite losing the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Two years later, he extended the record for the number of winners trained in a season from 146 to 180, a landmark that had stood for almost 100 years.

He won all the English Classics more than once, and Classics in France and Ireland, but despite his concentration on Europe, he still managed to win at the Breeders' Cup in America with Midday in 2009.

He never won in Dubai, despite sending Twice Over to race in the World Cup at Meydan Racecourse two times in 2010 and 2011 under Tom Queally.

"He was a great trainer and an even better person," said Queally, who was riding at Salisbury on Tuesday, said. "Everything he did was class and every other trainer aspired to be like him. Everyone in racing will feel his loss. They don't make people like him anymore."

If Queally is the present, then Steve Cauthen, the American jockey, represents the past. Cauthen was with Cecil for six years during the 1980s and partnered some of the greatest equine talent ever to come out of Newmarket.

Cauthen and Cecil formed a union that was sealed in greatness in their first year together when Oh So Sharp galloped to the fillies' Triple Crown in 1985 in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed.

Cauthen recalled those halcyon days, mentioning Indian Skimmer, who won the French Oaks in 1987, and Old Vic, who won the French Derby in 1989. Yet it was Cecil the man that shone through for him.

"He had a great sense of humour," Cauthen said.

"He was a super-intelligent guy and really knew how to place his horses. He tried to have fun. The atmosphere during most of the time I was up at Warren Place was just fantastic."

Lady Cecil has been granted a temporary licence at Warren Place as it is decided what is to become of the horses, the staff, and the facility itself.

This is to the background of Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's bloodstock operation that produced Frankel being sold. With the death of Bobby Frankel, Prince Abdullah's American trainer, to lymphoma in 2009, Frankel appears to have been the high-water mark to the Saudi Royals's racing and bloodstock empire.

The future may be uncertain. But what is not is Cecil's legacy.

It was Frankel who applied the gilt to Cecil's supreme, yet chequered, career. Cecil started life as a failure having gone, in his own words, "straight to the bottom of the class and stayed there," at age seven.

Having grappled with death for the past few years, he departs this world firmly at the top of it.

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