Sir Henry Cecil by Jon Ivan-Duke

Sir Henry Cecil by Jon Ivan-Duke

Vernon Grant writes: Like the rest of the racing world, I was saddened to hear of the death of the true gentleman of the sport, Sir Henry Cecil. A great loss.

I will write my own tribute at a later date. First, here are the words of respected racing journalist, Jon Ivan-Duke.


henry cecil

Sir Henry Cecil (1943 – 2013) – by racing journalist Jon Ivan-Duke. Follow on
Sir Henry Cecil was a true racing man. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and perhaps his uncompromising attitude was the foundation for his greatest achievements. Born in Aberdeen in 1943, he was 10 minutes older than his twin-brother David. His father had died two weeks before fighting with the Parachute Regiment in North Africa. Cecil’s mother married again. Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort was a five-time Champion trainer and looked after many of the king’s horses. Henry went on to be his stepfather’s assistant, before taking out his own licence in 1969.
It didn’t take the young Henry Cecil long to get amongst the winners. In his first year as a trainer, Wolver Hollow won the Eclipse Stakes, Cecil’s first Group One success. That word, success, would be a very fitting way to describe his training career as a whole. He won all the English Classics numerous times. Three 2,000 Guineas winners, six 1,000 Guineas successes, four Derby wins, eight Oaks and four St Leger’s.
His life will be portrayed in a Hollywood film. I have no doubt about that, because the greatest stories are those where people overcome adversity. He may have been blessed in some regards, but his return to the limelight with Frankel, could not have been better directed if it was a Steven Spielberg epic. After an infamous falling out with Sheikh Mohammed in 1995, Cecil was left in the racing wilderness. Many of his other previous owner’s had died or moved-on and Henry was left with just a handful of horses. Without Prince Khalid Abdullah’s support, Warren Place stables would have dwindled.
Cecil’s battle was not just a sporting one: the breakdown of marriages, the death of his brother David and his nemesis stomach cancer. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang suggests that everything must balance. With so many negatives over a decade, Cecil was due some luck. It emerged in the form of Frankel. He may have performed some magnificent training feats, but the wonder-colt will be his masterpiece.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s defining moment was the 1999 Champions League Final. His Manchester United side looked down and out, but right at the end a few minutes of magic lifted him and his team to glory. And so it was with Sir Henry.
Frankel was his last hurrah. A great comeback and a story that racing fans will tell their sons and daughters. It is sad to say, but anyone who was at Ascot for Frankel’s final bow, knew it wouldn’t be long before Sir Henry’s. He may have passed to the great winners’ circle in the sky, but his achievements will never be forgotten.


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