x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Thorough care for the 'greatest' thoroughbred

Frankel is a very precious commodity and requires special attention from Sir Henry Cecil.

Tom Queally, the jockey, and Frankel are joined by the owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia, second right, and the trainer Sir Henry Cecil, after winning the Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket Racecourse.
Tom Queally, the jockey, and Frankel are joined by the owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia, second right, and the trainer Sir Henry Cecil, after winning the Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket Racecourse.

Most nights Sir Henry Cecil goes through a meticulous routine.

Before he turns off the lights in his imposing home at Warren Place in Newmarket, he checks on the well-being of Frankel, his priceless thoroughbred.

Yet Cecil does not make the trip across the yard to the stables; he flicks on a television set. So concerned is the 68 year old about the idiosyncrasies of the world's top-ranked racehorse that he had a CCTV camera installed in Frankel's stable to transmit images into his bedroom.

You can hardly blame him for resorting to a device akin to a high-tech baby monitor to ensure his charge, who, if he was on the open market, would carry an estimated price tag in excess of £30 million (Dh172,952m), comes to no harm.

It seems money well spent. Most top athletes, animal and human, have their foibles. Frankel is no different.

"He is always biting himself, that sort of thing," Cecil said. "He sweats between his back legs and decides he's too hot. When he gets too hot he tries to chew himself.

"He pulls his rug over his head - he might break his neck. He's always fighting himself. Little things. He's got little mannerisms. If you are always worrying about things though you can't really thrive on it."

So Cecil has installed a state-of-the-art CCTV camera to monitor Frankel from his bedroom during the quiet of the night.

And this is a trainer who shuns mobile phones and, at a news conference to unveil sectional timings for the inaugural British Champions Day meeting, could barely contain his irritation at having to install special equipment in the saddle cloths of his runners.

Prince Khalid Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia, has entrusted Sir Henry Cecil with the horse of a lifetime and the trainer knows it. At the end of his unbeaten juvenile career, Frankel was rated the best two year old in Europe alongside Dream Ahead.

Wind forward to July this year and he propelled himself to the top of the world rankings by blitzing Canford Cliffs in an much-anticipated showdown in the Sussex Stakes to win his fourth Group 1 race.

Ratings dictate the apex of thoroughbred achievement but it was the manner of his success that left an indelible streak on the memories of all Goodwood racegoers.

Thoroughbreds are pack animals, and it is a marked characteristic that unlike many racehorses who do just enough to win, Frankel averages over a five-length victory in his eight wins to date.

His athletic stride can punish horses at the beginning of races, but against Canford Cliffs he wound up the mismatch three furlongs from home to hit 42mph in the final furlong. It led Cecil, who has saddled more than 3,000 individual winners and accumulated 36 European Classics in a 40-year training career to remark that this was the best horse he had seen in his lifetime.

"It's a lovely position to be in to have a horse of that capability," Cecil said. "I've enjoyed it. Early on it was a bit complicated. I am a simple person, I like simple things. When you have a horse of that calibre, there is always a bit of pressure that comes with it. I've had to put two horses down this year, I've had horses break legs. They are like glass."

Which is why the trainer takes so much care to make sure his stable star is safe and sound.

If the colt has a freakish ability then he also has a fiery temper to go with it. Often Frankel can be seen foaming between the legs as the adrenalin of race day pumps around his athletic frame.

With only four races this year there has been a lot of down time, however, which for a hot-blooded young thoroughbred like Frankel can lead to certain frustrations.

His talent will be on display at Ascot tomorrow, where Frankel will be running in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. For Cecil, it represents the end of the road to redemption, for Prince Khalid, a triumph of loyalty.

Six years ago, the trainer who looked to be living on past glories. Cecil had been reduced to a mere spectre, both professionally and personally. As a trainer, the man who had accumulated 10 trainer's championships in 16 years had saddled just 12 winners, eight of which were provided by Prince Khalid as the owner stood by the handler during the lean times.

Cecil's second marriage was also on the verge of collapse, but that was not even the bottom of the trough.

Only months later Cecil was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

After a glittering training career, with 73 Royal Ascot winners to his name, nobody would have begrudged him retirement, but despite his lean and foppish exterior, there is clearly a granite core.

"I might not be [competitive] on the outside," he has said. "But I am on the inside, definitely - underneath, very competitive. Always have been. We like winning."

Cecil liked the taste of victory so much that it was the only aspect to his life that drove him back towards redemption.

In 2006, Cecil sent out 25 winners in Britain, with Prince Khalid providing three of Cecil's four best earners in Novellara, Passage Of Time and Star Cluster.

In 2007 he won the English Oaks with Light Shift and, two years later, he secured his first race at the Breeders' Cup when Midday carried Prince Khalid's pink, green and white colours to the first of her three victories in the Filly and Mare Turf.

The international jaunts continued, and for the past two seasons he has brought Twice Over to compete in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse.

It is Prince Khalid's older horses that have carried him through this season, too.

Frankel apart, the next four highest earners in his yard all carry Prince Khalid's silks. Cecil has saddled 53 winners this year and yet only six of those were two year olds, despite over half of his yard comprising juveniles.

Twice Over, Midday, Timepiece and Principal Role have swelled the coffers by over £750,000 (Dh4.3 million) this season which puts their handler in fourth place in his pursuit of an 11th trainers' title. If all goes to plan tomorrow, he could make up the £850,000 shortfall between him and Richard Hannon.

With such sums on offer for Britain's richest race day, it is no surprise Newmarket trainers are falling over themselves to back Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's new Champions Day vision, with Cecil no exception.

"To me, this meeting is one of the best things that has ever come into racing," he said. "We need a real Champions Day and at this time of the year. We in England and Europe, have the best racehorses in the world. Few people would contradict that.

"We should have a really top Champions meeting for our horses. If the prize-money is fantastic we should get horses from abroad as times goes on. This meeting is going to become more and more important.

"Isn't it easier, more satisfactory and rewarding, having had a hard year, to go two hours from Newmarket in a horse box to Ascot, rather than when a horse changes its coat in November to fly all the way to America, quarantine and eat hamburgers for the Breeders Cup?"

Cecil's comments raise the possibility that, like so many horses at this time of year, Frankel may have had enough. The leaves of autumn have signalled the end of many a racehorse's season; the rigours of a busy summer can catch up on them. Cecil does not envisage that tomorrow, however.

"Horses can go over the top, just like that," he says, speaking in his customary staccato. "They start working too well. It means they are trying to get it over with very quickly and just go like that. They just do it. I don't think that will happen to these ones though."

sports@thenational.ae