Champion horse trainer Sir Henry Cecil dies after battle with cancer

 

Astonishing highs and lows are staples of the racing world. But the story of Sir Henry Cecil, the champion trainer, who died today aged 70, is remarkable for its swings of fortune both on and off the turf.

Nicknamed the Ben Hur of Newmarket, his tall, noble profile was a familiar sight at all the top flat race meets. Despite contracting stomach cancer six years ago, his later years were some of his finest. He trained Frankel to victory in 14 consecutive races from 2010-12. In a career that started in 1969, Sir Henry was responsible for 25 British Classic winners, and set the record for the most wins at Royal Ascot, with 75 victories.

Sir Henry and his twin brother David, also a trainer, were famously handsome and charming. But for all his easy-going charm, there were some setbacks even he struggled to overcome. Having married, in 1966, Julie Murless, the daughter of royal trainer Sir Noel, and had two children, he caused a racing scandal in 1990 when he left her for Natalie Payne, his lawyer's daughter, who was 24 years his junior. Unfortunately, Natalie proved unpopular with one of his clients, Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai. After the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot in 1996, the Sheikh removed 40 of his high-class thoroughbreds from Sir Henry's stable, over a row over whether one of them had been fit to run. “When he (Cecil) allows interference to creep in from those with limited knowledge, that is not good,” the Sheikh pronounced. Other top owners, including Lord Howard de Walden and Wafic Said, remained loyal, but Sir Henry sought comfort in drink, and newspapers delighted in picking over his downfall from champion trainer to also-ran.

Unusually for a great trainer, Sir Henry did not hail from a racing family. Born in Scotland in January 1943, he was rumoured in racing circles to be the illegitimate son of the first Aga Khan But after his birth-certificate father died in the war, aged 28, his mother remarried the Queen's trainer, Captain Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, who appointed the young Henry to be his assistant trainer. In 1973, when his father-in-law, Sir Noel, retired in 1973, Cecil bought his historic Newmarket stables, Warren Place, and went on to notch up victories at the Derby, 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks and St Leger, to name a few.

He favoured horses with big ears and preferred to rely on instinct rather than pore over table of data. He liked to dress well, favouring highly polished loafers and garish socks, and he admitted to having a weakness for upmarket Chelsea and Knightsbridge boutiques. “I'm very vain,” he once said. “I love shopping.” Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, he was also a tremendous hit with women.

For all his whimsy, Sir Henry demonstrated a steely core in 2007, when after suffering three blows in succession. In 2000, his twin died  of drink, aged just 57. Then in 2003, Sir Henry split from his second wife, by whom he had had a son, Jake. The circumstances of the divorce matched even Jilly Cooper's imagination, and featured an orgy of drink, drugs, her infidelity in Newmarket and his night with an £800 prostitute at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, as exposed by the News of the World.

But it was his diagnosis of the cancer that would kill him that proved his mettle. He resolved not to make a fuss of it, and despite receiving treatment, carried on working, with record-breaking results. Despite his aristocratic bearing, he was particularly popular with the punters, as they knew their money was as often as not safe on one of his horses. “He was loved by everyone,” said the former jockey Willie Carson. “He was just a genius of a horse race trainer”

The trainer, Jenny Pitman, said: “That horse would have charged Henry's batteries through the difficult time he was facing. When Frankel ran his last race in 2012, I felt it was inevitable  that life was going to be even more difficult for Henry. We all need to have that carrot dangling in front of us and Frankel was that carrot.” Frankel remains the highest-rated horse of all time.

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?