Tuesday 23 January 2018

Legendary trainer Sir Henry Cecil dies aged 70

Sir Henry Cecil
Sir Henry Cecil

Sir Henry Cecil has died at the age of 70, said a statement posted on the Newmarket trainer's official website.

Responsible for 25 British Classic winners and crowned champion trainer 10 times, Cecil was also the leading handler by some way at Royal Ascot with a record 75 successes.

Knighted by the Queen in 2011, his later years saw him battle cancer but were illuminated by the great Frankel, officially the best horse in the world and unbeaten in 14 starts before retirement.

A statement posted on www.sirhenrycecil.com read: "It is with great sadness that Warren Place Stables confirms the passing of Sir Henry Cecil earlier this morning.

"Following communication with the British Horseracing Authority, a temporary licence will be allocated to Lady Cecil.

"No further update is anticipated this afternoon."

From an aristocratic background, Cecil first took out a training licence in 1969.

He had his first British Classic win with Bolkonski in the 1975 renewal of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, following up in the same race a year later with Wollow.

Both horses were ridden by Frankie Dettori's father, Gianfranco.

Cecil excelled with fillies, and trained six 1000 Guineas winners and eight Oaks victors, his last Epsom heroine being Light Shift in 2007.

Four Derby winners - Slip Anchor, Reference Point, Commander In Chief and Oath - adorn his record, as do four St Leger triumphs.

Among his Leger winners was Oh So Sharp, who completed the fillies' Triple Crown of 1000 Guineas, Oaks and Leger under Steve Cauthen, with whom Cecil enjoyed a spectacular association.

But for all the great horses to pass through his care, the best was saved until last as Frankel demolished everything put in his path.

He retired to stud with an unbeaten 14-race record and was officially recognised as the greatest horse on the planet.

Cecil, who had been battling stomach cancer for a long time, married 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.

Cecil dominated Royal Ascot like no other and the racecourse were quick to pay their respects.

Johnny Weatherby, Her Majesty The Queen's representative, said in a statement: "Obviously it is very sad to hear of the loss of Sir Henry Cecil this morning.

"He has been an intrinsic part of racing and Royal Ascot for the whole of his career.

"No one had more success at the meeting and his 75 winners are a long way clear of anybody else.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this moment and they will be throughout the whole of next week."

Newmarket Racecourse paid its own tribute to Cecil, who saddled no less than nine Guineas winners at the track during his career.

A statement read: "Everyone at Newmarket Racecourses is hugely saddened to hear the news that Sir Henry has passed away and our thoughts are very much with Lady Cecil and all of the family.

"He was a much-loved gentleman of our sport and his winners were always hugely well received at both the Rowley Mile and the July Course.

"In total, he had no less than nine 2000 and 1000 Guineas winners - more than any other trainer from the modern era.

"These successes, along with the many others he had at the highest level, will ensure he is remembered as one of the greats of his profession.

"Those of us at Newmarket Racecourses were lucky enough to regularly come into contact with Sir Henry and his kindness and willingness to help were greatly appreciated by us all.

"Only earlier this spring, he attended a meeting to offer his thoughts and advice regarding our race programme.

"We, like so many others, will miss him very much and will never forget just how much he contributed to the sport of racing, not least here at Newmarket Racecourses."

American rider Steve Cauthen enjoyed six memorable and highly successful years as stable jockey, including many Classic triumphs.

"It's a great loss to the sport and to everybody who knew him. he was such a great guy - different, special, a genius," he said.

"We had six great years together. The first year we had an amazing run when Slip Anchor won the Derby and Oh So Sharp won the Triple Crown for fillies.

"There were many others - Old Vic who won the French and Irish Derby, Reference Point, Indian Skimmer - there were so many of them.

"He had a great sense of humour. 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.

"It was all due to him. It was a team effort but everyone looked to him. He was the one making decisions about where to run the horses.

"The way he trained was great and the way he placed them was fantastic. He was a special trainer.

"He went through a rough patch but he came back. To have a horse like Frankel and finish off his career when he wasn't in great health was incredible.

"He did a perfect job in making Frankel the horse he was."

Frankel signed off his amazing career with victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October and Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing and British Champions Series, who promote that race, hailed Cecil's achievements.

He said: "We were desperately shocked and saddened at the news of Sir Henry's death so our thoughts and condolences are with Lady Cecil, his family and friends at this very difficult time.

"Sir Henry has made a huge contribution to British racing over a great many years so his death will be a big blow to the sport and its legion of fans.

"His unique talents as one of Britain's greatest racehorse trainers, epitomised by his successes with Frankel, have played a major part in growing the sport's profile around the world, for which we will be forever in his debt.

"Sir Henry should also be remembered for his care and compassion, his sense of fair play, his sense of humour, his love of life and his quintessential Englishness. He will be greatly missed."

Arguably one of Cecil's key victories was that of Light Shift in the 2007 Oaks, his first Classic since 1999 after a lull in fortunes.

The filly was owned by the Niarchos family, who enjoyed a long relationship with Cecil.

Their racing manager Alan Cooper said: "The news has come as a shock. He's been so brave throughout his illness. Our thoughts are with his family.

"I've enjoyed a 30-year working relationship with him and it has been absolutely fantastic. He's been a good friend and a very good teacher.

"The family had horses with him before I started in the early 1980s.

"I suppose Light Shift was a crowning moment in our relationship. It was a defining moment and if it helped spark his revival, then that is very pleasing.

"He has been so brave throughout all this and never complained once.

"It is very tough to take the news, his record speaks for itself."

Willie Ryan was linked to the Cecil stable for 20 years and won numerous big races, including a Group One on King's Theatre.

"It's a very sad day, in some ways I knew him better than a lot of people," said Ryan.

"I was there for 20 years and could list numerous good horses that I rode.

"I just hope he's at peace now.

"He was at the top of the tree for so long, it's a horrible day."

Sir Peter O'Sullevan called many of Cecil's triumphs over the years in his role as BBC's racing commentator.

The 'voice of racing' described him as a "special man".

He said: "He was a very special man in so many ways. He had the common touch which is very rare.

"I think as a trainer he was best described by one of his charming owners Jim Joel as a man with green fingers for horses. That was a perfect definition of his amazing empathy with the horse.

"It was such a happy fact of his life that Frankel should come into it when he did. It was not just a happy association for him, but also a happy one for Frankel.

"They were simply made for each other.

"He will always be remembered with affection and admiration. He had a great touch with his horses.

"He always underplayed his intelligence, but he had to be a pretty bright man to learn as he went along because he wasn't a born trainer, he learnt the trade which is enormously to his credit."

Tom Queally has been Cecil's first jockey in recent years and was aboard Frankel for each of his wins.

He told Racing UK: "Everybody in racing will be saddened to hear of his passing away.

"This is going to affect an awful lot of people.

"I'm gutted to hear it. His illness got the better of him - it's a dreadful shame.

"He was very easy to ride for. He was a great trainer and an even greater person.

"Everything he did was class - he was just class, everything about him.

"Every other trainer aspires to be like him and no other trainer will come close.

"He had a great empathy with horses and was a people person as well.

"He made a serious business feel like fun - I'm sure any member of his staff will tell you the same.

"Simplicity wins, and he kept things simple.

"They don't make people like him anymore. He was a brilliant, brilliant trainer and a great man.

"We'll never see another trainer like him again."

Queally believes Frankel's career admirably demonstrated Cecil's training skills.

He added: "He really really excelled with him (Frankel). He made all he right calls and all the right choices with him.

"He retired unbeaten and that was his (Cecil's) jewel in the crown.

"Racing has lost a real gentleman."

Mick Kinane rode several big race winners for Cecil, including the 1993 Derby aboard Commander In Chief, and was fulsome in his praise.

"He was a lovely man to ride for and had a great way of making you feel at ease even when the stakes were high," Kinane told At The Races.

"I have to say he was very instrumental in launching my international career as in 1989 he gave me the spare ride in the Irish Oaks on Alydaress and things never looked back from there.

"I won a couple of King Georges for him (Belmez and King's Theatre) and the Derby (Commander In Chief) afterwards so I had some great success with him.

"The first time you win a big race you never forget and Commander In Chief was my first Derby. He was the second string on the day but he wasn't really as he was unexposed.

"His horses were always like the man himself, straightforward and easy to deal with, they were always very genuine and would do their utmost for you, just like he would.

"It was fitting the he ended up with a horse like Frankel when he faced his biggest battle himself, it was great he gave him so much pleasure.

"As a trainer he gave you all the confidence in the world going out, he was a lovely man to ride for.

"Breakfast at Warren Place was a lovely place to be, he had a big family and I'm sure he'll be sorely missed."

Current champion jockey Richard Hughes was linked to Cecil as he once held the role as owner Khalid Abdullah's retained rider.

"It's very sad, I'd only said a few weeks ago when I saw him saddling his horses that he looked very weak, god rest him, but that was his love for his horses," said Hughes.

"He'd have 100 people to saddle his horses but he just loved being there.

"I remember the first time I went to his yard, I wanted to see all the horses and he showed me all his roses! When I went in for breakfast he asked if I wanted soldiers with my egg!

"He was great fun to be around and his record as a trainer speaks for itself.

"His strength was he didn't get too technical. Some read speed figures and form books, but he wasn't like that. He trained his horse, he didn't mind what was in the race as if they were good enough, they would win.

"We've lost probably one of the greatest trainers of all time. Frankel was a brilliant horse but he got him up to his potential."

The Professional Jockeys' Association expressed their sadness at Cecil's death.

Joint President Steve Drowne said: "Sir Henry was one of the finest trainers of racehorses that the sport of horse racing has ever witnessed.

"His influence over generations of jockeys is renowned and those who rode for him benefited hugely from his knowledge and experience. He will be much missed by all of us."

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