Cecil relishes regaining place in Kentucky sun with Midday
Henry Cecil ambled back towards the quarantine barn yesterday morning, his drawled asides drifting and dispersing in the tobacco smoke, each jealously salvaged by a cluster of notepads and microphones. His magnetism seemed to obtain a literal quality as press and photographers tried to keep step, stumbling backwards, craning and twisting. Better testimony to his standing on the Turf, however, came from those who have shared it – both the living and the dead.
Cecil was asked about one whose memory is preserved by a young colt back in Newmarket, reckoned among the very best he has trained. Last year, Bobby Frankel lost his battle with the same sickness that has disclosed unsuspected steel in Cecil himself – fey and fragile as he always seemed next to Frankel, the pugnacious Brooklyn Jew who ended up joining him in the service of a Saudi prince. "Really, I only ever met him when I came out here," Cecil said. "But I knew him reasonably well. He was a character. Tough. And obviously a very good trainer."
As he discussed Frankel, the horse, few noticed the man straightening a piece of tack with a hammer in one of the adjacent barns. Wayne Lukas affected his own indifference, barely looking up as the posse passed. The poignant certainty, however, is that he must have been admitting to himself that he will never, now, match Cecil's astonishing return from oblivion.
These days, Lukas has only a small string and peripheral involvement in carnivals like the one staged here on Saturday. In his time, though, he has trained 18 Breeders' Cup winners – twice as many as the next in the all-time standings, Shug McGaughey. Cecil, in contrast, saddled his first winner only last year, Midday in the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. But she was just his ninth starter, and he has now brought her here as hot favourite to follow up on Friday's preliminary card. With Twice Over preparing for another trip to Dubai, there is no better measure of a resurrection apparently beyond Lukas than Cecil's increasing international ambition.
"You've got to have the horses," Cecil protested. "I went through five or six years when I didn't have horses worth taking to Catterick, never mind Churchill Downs. I've always enjoyed coming here. The first year I came, they picked me up from the airport in the longest stretch in America. It had four sets of wheels. But when I got to the track, to see my animal, the press saw me getting out of this thing and they all laughed. That was too much to take – they gave me a complex, you see – so I asked for a smaller vehicle."
Dependably as he deprecates himself, nobody was deceived that he could ever be cowed. He playfully rebuked one questioner by asking: "When did you get here? Tomorrow?" He seemed unmistakably at home himself, offering heavy-eyed ironies from beneath a large, black, button-down cap, after Midday ventured into the cold, flat sunlight creeping across the back stretch.
"You never quite know at this time of year," he admitted. "I ran a colt at Newmarket last weekend [Picture Editor] who had been working beautifully, and I couldn't see him being beaten. But he'd gone, overnight. So far as I can tell, this mare is bouncing. She has travelled well, eaten up, and seems in very good order. I've always had this race in mind. I don't think the Arc would have been her race anyway, but she'd had three pretty tough races in eight weeks, and needed a breather. So I have no excuses." He paused wryly. "At the moment."
His one concern, having seen Midday jar herself at York in May, is that the turf is so firm. He confined her to the dirt track yesterday, whereas Workforce was allowed to sample the grass when he emerged for a cautious spin under Ryan Moore. The Arc winner's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, is yet to arrive but his assistant, Stuart Messenger, grimly promised "a serious discussion with the boss" about the wisdom of risking him in these conditions.
Moore may yet ride Paco Boy in the Mile as Richard Hughes maintains his epic pursuit of Paul Hanagan in the final week of the Flat jockeys' championship. Having extended his lead to five the previous day, Hanagan saw his rival peg him back with a double at Kempton yesterday, and Hughes will leave it late before deciding whether to sit out the final day of the campaign at Doncaster on Saturday to ride Paco Boy.
It is an excruciating dilemma for Hughes, who had been reminded overnight of the fulfilment available in international glory to even the most seasoned riders. The footage of Gérald Mossé celebrating France's first success in the Melbourne Cup – riding Americain for Alain de Royer-Dupré – will haunt Hughes should he decide to stay on home soil, and still fail to catch Hanagan. After all, as Cecil's example shows, sometimes horses will permit you a living legacy.
Melbourne Cup: Americain scores a first for France
Americain, ridden by Gérald Mossé, gave France its first victory in the Melbourne Cup yesterday when the Alain de Royer-Dupré-trained five-year-old scored by two-and-three-quarter lengths from Maluckyday in "the race that stops a nation". The Cox Plate and Mackinnon Stakes winner So You Think was third.
Godolphin's Holberg did best of the British in sixth, with Luca Cumani's Manighar seventh. Cumani's other contender, Bauer, was a non-runner.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Cheddar George (7.35 Kempton) Set plenty to do last time, in heavy ground, against one who has since followed up. Returns now to course and distance of success on first start for new stable – had been gelded – and well treated at just 3lb higher.
Final Verse (3.30 Nottingham) Made a promising start for his latest stable at Lingfield last month, showing sprightly acceleration from last to fourth, and very well handicapped if able to build on that comeback.
One to watch
Tocca Ferro (Emma Lavelle) Ultimately only scrambled home at Ascot on Saturday but the way he travelled through the race reiterated the impression that he will thrive with the emphasis on speed.
Where the money's going
Or not – with Coral easing Workforce from evens to 6-4 (non-runner, no bet) for the Breeders' Cup Turf as connections express misgivings about fast ground.
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