Racing: Sergeant Cecil joins up for the Cesarewitch action

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The Independent Online

Yet there is another still running, a beast which could claim to be not only horse of the year but also horse of a century. This six-year-old is trained considerably less pompously and under a name which suggests he is not so much a fearsome warrior but a character from Dad's Army.

Sergeant Cecil has already won the Northumberland Plate and Ebor this season - a feat last achieved by Pillo in 1911 - as well as finishing second to Millenary in the Doncaster Cup. Now he will attempt to scoop yet another of the campaign's most notable staying handicaps in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket a week tomorrow.

It is all rather high-octane fuel for Rod Millman's Paddocks yard at Kentisbeare near the Devon town of Cullompton, especially as the trainer, as befits most smaller operations trying to keep afloat, has attracted a reputation for surviving on a diet of young, fast horses, straight off the shelf. Millman is supposed to be a man for hares rather than tortoises.

"I would hate to be pigeon-holed as just a trainer of two-year-olds or sprinters," Millman said yesterday. "I've had winners from five furlongs to four miles [most notably Kendal Cavalier] and I would love to have a Classic horse.

"It's quite exciting at the moment because we are buying some yearlings at the sales. Every time you jump on one of those and give it their first half-speed you just don't know what you have got. Even then you can jump on it a few more times and hope it gets a bit faster.

"But, having said that, it's very nice to have a different sort of horse like Cecil around. You need a good horse every year to keep in business."

Sergeant Cecil is a monument not only to Millman's training skills but also to the man he was named after. Cecil Edward Cooper, a sergeant major in World War I, died leaving a widow who could not afford to buy a gravestone. But now his memory is transported gloriously around the country by the athlete which bears his name.

"We called Cecil after him," Terry Cooper, the Sergeant's son and owner, has said, "and he has proved a lot better than a piece of stone."

Sergeant Cecil was cut to 10-1 (from 12-1) by Coral for the Cesarewitch yesterday and Millman would not put you off. "He's had a break and he's on song," the trainer added. "The dream goes on because we never ever dreamed we would be second in a Group Two with him.

"We gave him a bit of a break after Doncaster and we're trying to get him to peak for the Cesarewitch. We did consider the Jockey Club Cup. He's 4lb better off in the Cesarewitch than he would be in future handicaps, but I think this could be his last handicap, all being well.

"It's a bit of a fairy story really. He was bought out of a field by his owner from a friend who was retiring from business and didn't have anywhere to keep him. He [Terry Cooper] was virtually given the horse and then we got a jockey to ride who has not been around for four years.

"Alan Munro has been a great factor in the success of this horse. In fact, he's become so successful that we can't seem to get him any more. Unless they're good enough to win, and then we find he is available.

"Alan is so focused when he is riding a horse. Other jockeys are thinking about how to ride a horse when they are pulling up. Alan has done that from the moment we have booked him. Whatever happens it has been a wonderful season. I can't believe it has happened really."

l Alkaased has recovered from a minor setback and is ready to return to the track in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket a week tomorrow. Luca Cumani's five-year-old, second in the Prix Foy on his most recent start, was a late withdrawal from last Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe after a small cut became infected.

Cobra strikes for Havlin

Queen Cobra ensured that the good run being enjoyed by Hughie Morrison's Berkshire stable continued yesterday when she won by two lengths at Southwell.

Ridden by Robert Havlin, the filly swept into the lead just past the furlong marker. Morrison's travelling head lad, Andrew Dare, said: "Yes, we've started to hit a bit of form."

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Pearl King

(York 2.20)

NB: Balavista

(York 3.25)