Racing: Sergeant Cecil takes the footslogger's route to dreamland

Champions' Day: A horse named for a First World War soldier and a potential Classic star beat the odds
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The Independent Online

The story of the gallant chestnut gelding, humbly bred and cheaply bought, has been a grass-roots Turf inspiration. His owner, Terry Cooper, runs an office-supplies business in Blandford, Dorset. His trainer Rod Millman is a small-time operator with only 40 horses in his Cullompton yard. And sure, his jockey, Alan Munro, won a Derby, but he has been rebuilding his career after 10 years in Hong Kong and a sabbatical from the sport.

The two-and-a-quarter mile Cesarewitch is an uncompromising test, but 10-1 shot Sergeant Cecil marched to an easy three-length victory. And as he and Munro returned to the winner's circle, Cooper deflected congratulations towards them. "Not much to do with me," he said, "it's those three. What a horse, what a jockey, what a trainer."

Unusually for a marathon specialist, Sergeant Cecil has a considerable engine and several gears, and in Munro has found a perfect partner. "He needs a confident rider," confirmed Millman, "one who is not afraid to have patience, even to get boxed in, and pounce late."

Munro demonstrated the duo's modus operandi to perfection, burying Sergeant Cecil in the pack until bursting clear inside the final furlong to catch the one who had gone for home, King Revo (20-1). Inchandamph (50-1) claimed third spot, ahead of Vinando (25-1) and Elusive Dream. The 3-1 favourite, Afrad, came in 28th of 34.

"It's a great piece of history and I'm just pleased to be part of it," said Munro. "I don't think I've ever ridden a horse who helps me more. He travels so easily, and I can place him where I want. If there's a gap, he has the tactical speed to go through, and then he'll relax again and wait for the next instruction. Just professionalism and class."

Cooper, who bought Sergeant Cecil for small money as a foal, explained the origin of his beloved gelding's name. "My father died when I was nine," he said. "His name was Cecil Edward Cooper and he had been a sergeant-major in the First World War. But when he died my mum was struggling and the poor chap never had a proper headstone to his grave. As the years went on I always meant to buy him one, but it never got done. We called Cecil after him, and he has proved a lot better than a piece of stone. "

Sergeant Cecil has now earned more than £400,000. And the result of the Dewhurst Stakes earlier in the afternoon was another bumper payday for an owner, in this case retired solicitor Anthony Packenham. His Marcus Tregoning-trained Sir Percy, a bargain 16,000-guinea yearling, maintained his unbeaten record as he lowered the colours of the Ballydoyle hotshot Horatio Nelson by a diminishing neck.

Sir Percy's winnings now total more than £300,000 and there may be more to come. Sheikh Mohammed, given to headhunting talent on behalf of his Godolphin operation, was noted with a familiar acquisitive gleam in his eye as he appraised the colt, who is sired by his own stallion Mark Of Esteem.

Horatio Nelson, the 8-11 favourite, could be counted as an unfortunate loser, having encountered all sorts of traffic problems under Kieren Fallon. He remains favourite for the Derby, with Sir Percy introduced into the 2,000 Guineas market at 16-1.

The other Group One contest, the Champion Stakes, does not always live up to its title. Alongside the great names on its roll of honour there are imposters and it may be that another is yesterday's 25-1 winner David Junior, who beat the French filly Pride by three-quarters of a length, with Maraahel and Oratorio third and fourth. His trainer, Brian Meehan, seemed as bemused as any by the success. "What can you say?" he said of the three-year-old, owned by publisher David Sullivan. "It may be a surprise, but it's now in the form book."

It was a second top-level winner here for Meehan this autumn, after Donna Blini's Cheveley Park Stakes, and set the seal on the season for champion jockey-elect Jamie Spencer.

In the day's sub-plot, the battle between Aidan O'Brien and Sir Michael Stoute for the trainers' title, the Newmarket handler maintained his lead, thanks to Maraahel and the Jockey Club Cup winner, Cover Up, on whom the Ballydoyle No 1, Fallon, rode like a demon for his old boss.


Serious bet: Lou Du Moulin Mas (Market Rasen 3.50) is consistent - consistently second (six times last season), but is well weighted to win today.

Fun bet: Bond Boy (Musselburgh 4.00). His form may read 060 rather than 007, but he could announce himself as boldly as Daniel Craig.