Sunday 25 February 2018

True gem whose Irish legacy will never be forgotten

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

The frailness that was so evident in Henry Cecil's televised interviews of late prevented him from visiting Irish racecourses in recent years, but the revered Scottish-born handler had long endeared himself to racing fans on this side of the water.

A quintessentially British trainer, his quiet dignity and spiritual affinity for horses bridged a yawning aristocratic gulf from the off.

Just as he was perceived to be an unlikely working class hero at home, Cecil's beguilingly humble disposition and unquestioned genius appealed to all manner of racing people here.

Much like fellow late Epsom legend Vincent O'Brien, his horses' superlative feats transcended any wider political or societal divisions.

The original Ballydoyle maestro's reputation was founded on his prowess in English racing's marquee events, and Cecil's charges crossed the water in the opposite direction to similarly deft effect.

On Irish 2,000 Guineas day at the Curragh two weeks ago, Tom Queally eased Chigun clear for a stylish Group Three victory.

Chigun would ultimately prove his sole starter in Ireland this year, so her classy triumph was a fitting denouement to his Irish legacy.

Famously, the mighty Frankel supplied the Newmarket legend's final Group One at Ascot in October. However, Cecil's penultimate top-level success came in controversial circumstances on Irish soil, with the Queally-ridden Chachamaidee awarded the Matron Stakes in the Leopardstown stewards' room last September, having received a bump from Duntle prior to initially going down by a short-head.

It was his 10th and last Group One in this country, the respective Irish Derby triumphs of Old Vic and Commander In Chief spearheading six Irish Classic victories.

Under the unmistakable Pat Eddery bump and grind, Commander In Chief denied the Prix du Jockey Club hero Hernando to gamely complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double in 1993.

Four years earlier, Cecil brought the American riding sensation Steve Cauthen and Old Vic – his only winner of the French equivalent – to headquarters. One of the first crop of iconic stallion Sadler's Wells, Old Vic duly carried Sheikh Mohammed's maroon and white silks to an emphatic rout on the Curragh.

The Dubai prince paid for the installation of the now renowned Old Vic all-weather gallop that runs up the inside of the course out of the IR£366,500 prize money.

Cecil's most trusted deputies tended to be Irish. At various removes, he combined to devastating effect with Eddery, Mick Kinane and Kieren Fallon, while Willie Ryan and Ted Durcan were also long-serving allies.

Nonetheless, the manner in which Cecil enabled the child prodigy Queally to mature and flourish under his tuition says much about his qualities as a human.

At a time when his Warren Place stable's absorbing comeback from the post-Sheikh Mohammed doldrums was still precariously balanced, the wise old sage put his trust in a recalcitrant young talent, backing him to the hilt.

Together they scaled unimaginable heights, and there were few more devastated than the Dungarvan native that the great man finally lost his battle with a disease that had ravaged him since 2006.

"He was a great trainer and an even greater person," Queally said yesterday. "Every other trainer aspired to be like him but nobody will even come close. Racing has lost a real gem."

Irish Independent

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