As a rule, the groom might expect to wear top hat and tails for his wedding day, rather than his honeymoon. But no tropical paradise would tempt Henry Cecil away from Royal Ascot next week, and his fiancée, Jane McKeown, was never under any illusions about their destination once the nuptials were fixed for tomorrow.
In the circumstances, only those trying to beat bank rates with the odds-on favourite, Henrythenavigator, would begrudge success for Twice Over in the St James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday. It is six years since Cecil's 70th success there confirmed him as the outstanding Royal Ascot trainer of modern times. In the meantime, his personal and professional fortunes have disclosed the substance sustaining all those familiar, exquisite flourishes. He was written off barely two years ago, but none can question his resurgence as a trainer – and now he hopes that he might achieve similar renewal against the attrition of cancer. In stormy waters, Henry has proved the truest of navigators.
Warren Place was too hectic with preparations for Cecil to supervise his runners here yesterday, but the stable approaches Ascot in fine fettle. Sevenna's success under Ted Durcan in the opener was its 21st of the season, maintaining a strike-rate of one in four.
Twice Over will be dropping back to a mile after meeting his first defeat in the Dante Stakes at York. Cecil's dismayed reaction that day was that the colt had failed for stamina, despite having won over 10 furlongs as a juvenile. Having persuaded his owner, Khaled Abdulla, to sit out the 2,000 Guineas in favour of a Derby preparation, he must have been relieved, if anything, when the colt returned a sickly blood count a few days later.
"Mr Cecil wasn't 100 per cent happy with Twice Over after York," Durcan confirmed. "He was beaten so far out there that you could hardly say it was simply a case of him not getting the trip. We all know that the favourite is going to be a tough nut to crack, and there are other horses to respect in the race like Falco, but at least our horse is back bouncing now. I sat on him on Saturday morning, and he seems in excellent order. I just wouldn't want it too firm for him, but we should be all right with a drop of rain about."
Durcan was wearing the same silks as when Cecil's quest for a fifth Derby foundered at Epsom last Saturday, Kandahar Run fading in the straight to finish ninth. "He blatantly didn't stay," the jockey said. "It was always in the back of our minds that he might not get home, but the way he had switched off when he won at Newmarket entitled us to hope. Unfortunately the pacemaker and the 1,000-1 shot rushed up early and lit me up a bit, which didn't help. But the Derby can take a lot out of horses and the main thing is that Mr Cecil has been really happy with him since. There should be plenty more from him later in the season."
Another veteran Newmarket trainer whose touch remains as sure as ever is Michael Jarvis, who saddled his first juvenile winner of the season in Sri Putra and then followed up with the impressive Ghaidaa in the second division of Sevenna's maiden.
Sri Putra could go for the Weatherbys Superlative Stakes at the Newmarket July Meeting, while Ghaidaa could yet be given the chance to match the Classic achievements of her dam and half-sister, Midway Lady and Eswarah, who both won the Oaks. "She is coming on in leaps and bounds," Jarvis said. "She is not in the Irish Oaks, but could be put in if the boss [Sheikh Hamdan] wanted it."
The Curragh is also a possibility for Rosa Grace, who quickened well to get out of traffic in the day's feature race, the Lord Weinstock Memorial Stakes. That success meant her trainer, Rae Guest, had won with his last four runners and he maintained the sequence with Si Belle at Yarmouth. Even this could be interpreted as a positive augur for Cecil, as Guest is McKeown's brother and looking forward to toasting their happiness tomorrow.
As for Rosa Grace, Guest has always entertained high hopes. "She needed her first run back," he said. "And the only thing we were worried about today was the rain getting into the ground, because she's a lovely mover. We don't pay a fortune for them, and we don't get sent the best. But we seem to find one every year."Reuse content