Sir Henry Cecil, one of the most influential and successful racehorse trainers of all time, has died. He lost a long battle with stomach cancer on Tuesday morning aged 70.
Cecil prepared 25 British Classic winners and reached arguably the pinnacle of his career with his flawless handling of Frankel, who he guided to a perfect record of 14 wins from 14 races.
A hugely popular figure with racegoers, he also prepared champions the calibre of Slip Anchor, Old Vic, Royal Anthem and Reference Point. He was crowned Britain’s champion trainer 10 times and was also the leading handler at Royal Ascot by a long way with a record 75 successes.
In 2011, his remarkable life and sporting achievements were recognised by the Queen when he was knighted for services to racing. He is survived by two children from his first marriage, Katie and Noel, and a son Jake from his second marriage to Jane McKeown.
From an aristocratic background, he was born in Aberdeen in 1943 and served as assistant-trainer to his stepfather Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort from 1964 to 1968.
He took out a licence in 1969 and the first classic arrived with Bolkonski in the 1975 English 2000 Guineas. He doubled up the following with Wollow. Both horses were ridden by Frankie Dettori’s father, Gianfranco.
The racing world united on Tuesday to pay tribute to one of the all-time greats.
“Sir Henry has been one of the great characters and one of the great trainers for a long time,” BHA chief executive Paul Bittar said. “It is tragically sad but, having said that, what a wonderful way to be able to finish his career with Frankel, the greatest racehorse any of us will ever get to see.
“From a British racing perspective, how lucky we were to be able to see Frankel on the racecourse for three seasons and see Sir Henry be able to enjoy that as much as he did.”
English Derby-winning trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam said: “What a very sad day, a passing of a true legend, one of the nicest men I had the pleasure and honour to meet. We will all miss the great man.”
American rider Steve Cauthen enjoyed six memorable and highly successful years as his stable jockey. “He was such a great guy – different, special, a genius,’ he said. “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. 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.’
Cancer treatment robbed Cecil of his voice but not his sense of humour and he seemed in good spirits when attending Newmarket’s Craven Meeting in April. But he had not been seen on the track in recent weeks.
A lover of clothes and with a garden full of his prized roses, Cecil was an aristocrat by breeding but one with a common touch which made his appeal to normal racing fans all the greater. They respected both his skills and personality.
His passing truly is the end of an era for horse racing.