Battered Cecil has thoughts of retiring

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The Independent Online

Normality seemed to have returned here yesterday when Henry Cecil saddled his 69th winner at a Royal meeting, another Group-race milestone in a career which has glittered over 30 years. Sandmason's success in the Hardwicke Stakes appeared to have restored normal service, but then came the revelation that Cecil has been toying with the idea of pulling his plug out of the socket, of cutting off his service to the sport.

The last year has been the worst of Cecil's life. He lost his twin, David, to cancer, a stable jockey in Kieren Fallon and his wife, Natalie, in a contorted domestic mess. There was also the disgrace of a drunken episode resulting in Cecil's car injuring two elderly pedestrians.

Now he has almost lost the will to go on professionally. In the darker hours at Warren Place he has considered closing the most successful training career of modern times.

"It's nice to have a winner," he said post Sandmason yesterday. "We can go home knowing it hasn't been a complete disaster. On the first day I thought I could have three winners, but they just weren't finishing. They were hitting a wall.

"I came here with a small team thinking they'd run very well. I've had a second, a third, a fourth and this winner but it hasn't been a great week. I had more chances than a lot of people training but it can get very frustrating. Everyone expects so much. If they never expected anything it would be easy wouldn't it? Sometimes I think enough is enough and you can only take so much can't you? It's in my mind that I can't go on for ever.

"It's been one of the worst seasons I've had. Everything seems to go wrong. You can get quite down. Even today, two very nice two-year-olds have jarred their knees. And I'm not good at taking the bad news.

"We know we can still train a winner, but when things go wrong you wonder sometimes if you've had enough."

It has largely been a gilded life for Cecil, yet he is the most vulnerable of trainers. As the winners were thumping in he could at least marginalise the tensions which seemed to be fighting a winning battle within his body. At the age of 57, now that the balm of glory has been removed, he is a most agitated and sorrowful figure.

There cannot be that many more working years left either for Barry Hills, but the 64-year-old Lambourn trainer is not tormented by the thought of dwindling powers. A marvellous season was furnished yesterday when Storming Home made nonsense of the old chestnut that Derby horses run poorly at this meeting. He came crashing up the straight in the King Edward VII Stakes to earn a place in another monarch's race, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes here next month.

Hills discussed the Derby hoodoo in his post-race conference. "I was a bit worried about that, but he has done really well since Epsom and worked well the other day," he said. "We did think about the short time between the two races, but there was nothing else to go for with him. The penny is finally dropping with him and I think there may be more improvement to come."

There are grand plans too for Banks Hill, the French filly who may now attempt to prove herself the champion miler in Europe after swatting aside her female rivals in the Coronation Stakes. It was André Fabre's first strike of the week, the first for his native France.

"I was very confident from the very beginning because she is an outstanding filly, a star," he said. "For a mile filly this is the ultimate target and we will have to take on the boys now."

Johnny Murtagh secured his first Royal Ascot riding title when he gained his fifth winner of the meeting on Nice One Clare in the Wokingham Handicap to give the Newmarket trainer Pip Payne a first Royal triumph. Jamie Osborne, in his second season with a training licence, also saddled his first Royal winner when Pat Eddery, who finally got on the scoresheet for the week, forced Irony home in the Windsor Castle Stakes. Jamie Spencer ended the meeting with a two-day ban for using his whip above shoulder height on the veteran Dorans Pride, who finished third to Life Is Life in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, the Flat season's longest race.

* Kalanisi sustained a hairline crack to his near-fore shin when finishing second to Fantastic Light in the Prince of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday.