Cecil shows signs of strain

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The births column of the local newspaper here could make interesting reading this week. "CECIL", the entry might begin. "To Henry Richard Amherst, the most successful trainer of the last 20 years, at the July course on Tuesday: a fit, healthy persecution complex, which is growing by the week."

That, at least, was the strong impression here yesterday as Cecil, whose natural attitude lies somewhere between placid and comatose, offered evidence that after 28 years at the top of his profession, he has suddenly started to feel the pressure.

A fortnight ago, after Royal Ascot, Cecil accused Michael Kinane, probably the finest jockey in Europe, of "sabotaging" two of his runners at the meeting. Then, on Saturday, he watched in despair as Bosra Sham, the best middle-distance horse in Europe and a particular favourite of the trainer, finished third in the Eclipse Stakes. Cecil later described the riding tactics of Kieren Fallon, his stable jockey, as "appalling", which was a fair assessment - Fallon allowed himself to be boxed in and then attempted to force his way through a gap which only he could see - but one which he would not normally have been expected to make public.

Yesterday morning, Cecil confirmed in a statement to the Press Association that Fallon will no longer ride either Bosra Sham or Lady Carla, the 1996 Oaks winner. Both are owned by Wafic Said, the Syrian businessman, whose own opinion of Fallon's performance on Saturday is believed to be unprintable (even in Syrian). "I have decided," the statement said, "having talked to connections and in the best interests of the fillies that Kieren Fallon will be replaced in their future races."

Trainer and jockey made a more positive start to the afternoon, as Craigsteel ran away with the maiden which opened the Newmarket card (there was, incidentally, little chance of Fallon finding himself boxed in, as he led throughout the race). Afterwards, though, there was little sign that Cecil's mood had improved.

Asked to elaborate on his statement, Cecil instead delivered what was, by his normal taciturn standards, a rant. "Have you read it?" he snapped at an unfortunate reporter from the Sporting Life. "It should be clear what it says, and if it isn't, then you must be stupid. I'm sick of all the rubbish that's been printed about me. Just leave me alone."

The association between Cecil, the foppish, upper-class gent, and Fallon, who arrived at Warren Place stables with a rough-house reputation born of countless run-ins with the authorities, was always one of the turf's more unlikely professional marriages. Fallon's most famous red-mist moment came after a race at Beverley in 1994, when a long-standing feud with another rider, Stuart Webster, culminated in Fallon hauling Webster from his saddle, watched by astonished punters in betting shops throughout Britain. Fallon was banned from riding for six months as a result.

"There's no strain on my half [of the partnership]," Fallon said after his success on Craigsteel yesterday. "Obviously Mr Cecil probably isn't as confident now as he was going into the Eclipse, but we'll hope to change that before the end of the year."

If Fallon remains optimistic, however, the nervous, irritated expression on his employer's face implied that at present he does not share the jockey's outlook on life. Craigsteel's race was a maiden which often pinpoints a major contender for the following season's Classics, and the colt is now a 20-1 chance with the bookmakers to win the 1998 2,000 Guineas. The odds that he will do so with Kieren Fallon in his saddle, however, are at least 10 times larger.