A short, simple statement on his website announced the news that racing had lost one of its true legends this morning. “It is with great sadness that Warren Place Stables confirms the passing of Sir Henry Cecil earlier this morning,” it read, before the website was taken off line.
All four racecourses with meetings today, Fontwell, Salisbury, Worcester and Lingfield quickly confirmed that they would hold a minute’s silence before racing, with jockeys wearing black armbands. I expect the same to happen next Tuesday before the start of Royal Ascot; a meeting at Cecil trained 75 winners, far more than any other trainer.
He has finally succumbed to the cancer that claimed his twin brother David in 2000, and which Sir Henry had battled for the past six years.
Cecil’s training career spanned two generations. He took out a licence in 1969, and the first two of his 25 Classic winners, Bolkonski and Wollow, in the 2000 Guineas of 1975 and 1976 were both ridden by Gianfranco Dettori, Frankie’s father. American jockey Steve Cauthen rode nine of those Classic winners, including a Triple Crown in 1985 on Oh So Sharp remembered Cecil as “a genius. 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 at Warren Place was just fantastic.”
Those achievements in the last century would be more than most trainers could hope to achieve, yet Cecil had one further great horse to benefit from his skill. Frankel’s unbeaten record of 14 races, ten of them at Group 1 level were a final testament to the genius Cauthen spoke about.
Seeing him last year on one of his final visits to the racecourse I realised just how ill he had become. Heavily drawn, and barely able to speak, I am sure there was some truth in the thought that Frankel was giving him a reason to live. Now the horse is no longer racing, that reason has gone, and now, too, has Sir Henry Cecil.
Let us know what you thought about Sir Henry Cecil and his achievements.