Sir Henry Cecil – 1943 to 2013
Born in Aberdeen on 11 January 1943, Henry Cecil came to Newmarket while still an infant when his mother, Rohays, (who had been widowed when her husband was killed in action in north Africa two weeks before Henry and his twin brother David were born) moved the family to the area to live at Gesyns Farm in Wickhambrook, from where they moved to Freemason Lodge in the Bury Road when Cecil Boyd-Rochford became his step-father.
Cecil took out a trainer’s licence in 1969, following the retirement of his step-father (who was knighted by the Queen in that year’s New Year’s Honours List). His first season proved notably successful as he trained the winners of two races which now carry Group One status: Wolver Hollow won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and Approval won the Observer Gold Cup (now Racing Post Trophy) at Doncaster.
When Boyd-Rochford sold Freemason Lodge, Cecil moved his string to the newly-built Marriott (now Chestnut Tree) Stables in Hamilton Road, from which property he sent out his first two Classic winners, Bolkonski and Wollow, winners of the 2,000 Guineas in 1975 and ’76. At the end of that latter season, he moved into Warren Place on the retirement of his father-in-law, Sir Noel Murless.
From Warren Place, which remained Cecil’s home until he died, Cecil went from being one of the most successful trainers in the country to standing as the undisputed master of his profession, held in the highest possible esteem by professionals and public alike. Among his many milestones, he was champion trainer 10 times, trained 25 British Classic winners and became the most successful trainer at Royal Ascot in history.
The four Derby winners trained by Cecil included the outstanding colts Slip Anchor and Reference Point, while his other champions included the Triple Crown-winning filly Oh So Sharp; the brilliant miler Kris and his full-brother Diesis, the only two-year-old in the modern era to complete the Middle Park / Dewhurst double; the dual Ascot Gold Cup winners Le Moss and Ardross; the terrific race mares Indian Skimmer, Bosra Sham and Midday; and Old Vic, whose Prix du Jockey-Club victory in 1989 made him the first British-trained colt to win the ‘French Derby’.
It transpired, though, that Cecil, who was knighted for services to horse racing in the Queen’s 2011 Birthday Honours List, had saved the best until last: the mighty Frankel, unbeaten winner of 14 races between August 2010 and October 2012 and justifiably described by his trainer as “the best horse anyone has ever seen”.
After Sir Henry Cecil’s death on 11 June 2013, his string at Warren Place was taken over by his widow Jane, who was able to pay him the perfect tribute by saddling a poignant and popular double at his beloved Royal Ascot the following week.