The fact that it could hardly come as a particular shock in no way diminished the grief that united the British racing community following the death of Sir Henry Cecil at the age of 70. The trainer of more than 3,000 winners, 25 in British Classics, has never been respected more than during his fight with cancer since 2006 – not least for his masterly training of Frankel during that time. But the tributes across the sport testified unanimously to still deeper bonds of affection.
Cecil's longstanding rival, Sir Michael Stoute, put it well. "I do not believe this country has ever produced a better trainer than Henry," he said. "I know there has never been one so loved."
The stable jockey at Warren Place, Tom Queally, also stressed the breadth of his late employer's gifts. "He was a great trainer and an even greater person," Queally told Racing UK. "Everything about him was class. Every other trainer aspired to be like him but nobody will even come close. Everyone throughout the industry will feel his loss, because they don't make them like him any more. He had a great empathy with his horses, and he was a people person. Racing has lost a real gem."
As BBC commentator, Sir Peter O'Sullevan described many of Cecil's defining moments. "As a trainer he was best described by Jim Joel [an owner with Cecil] as a man with green fingers for horses," O'Sullevan said. "That was a perfect definition of his amazing empathy. It was such a happy fact of his life that Frankel should come into it when he did. It was not just a happy association for him, but also for Frankel. They were simply made for each other."
Steve Cauthen's six years at Warren Place coincided with a golden spell for both trainer and jockey, beginning with four out of five Classics in their first season together in 1985. "He was such a great guy: different, special, a genius," the American said. "He had a great sense of humour, he was super intelligent and really knew how to place his horses. He tried to have fun. The atmosphere most of the time I was at Warren Place was just fantastic. He went through a rough patch [later] but came back. To have a horse like Frankel finish off his career when he wasn't in great health was incredible. He did a perfect job in making Frankel the horse he was."
Another in a sequence of jockeys to become champion in Cecil's service was Pat Eddery. "He was a genius," he told At The Races. "He was never overpowering, an easy person to get on with. His horses were amazing. He worked them hard but they always produced."
Mick Kinane corroborated that view as he recalled his 1993 Derby success on Commander In Chief. "He had a great way of making you feel at ease even when the stakes were high," he said. "His horses were always like the man himself: straightforward, easy to deal with, they were always very genuine and would do their utmost for you, just like he would. It was fitting he ended up with Frankel, when he faced his biggest battle himself."
The current champion jockey, Richard Hughes, remembered being shown the Warren Place roses when he expected a tour of the horses. "His strength was he didn't get too technical," Hughes said. "Some read speed figures and form books, but he wasn't like that: he trained his horse, and didn't mind what was in the race as if they were good enough, they would win."
Light Shift's success for the Niarchos family in the 2007 Oaks was Cecil's first Classic since 1999 and Alan Cooper, racing manager to the owners, was heartbroken at the news. "He's been a good friend and a very good teacher," he said. "And he has been so brave throughout all this, never complained once."
Cecil's widow, Jane, is to be granted a temporary training licence to keep the Warren Place stables operational. Jockeys at today's meetings rode in black armbands, and a minute's silence was observed.