Cecil fillies to show timeless quality

Newmarket trainer can display velvet distaff touch with Listed race double

Chris McGrath
Monday 21 September 2015 12:39

Among all the unexpected romances that ensured a vintage Royal Ascot last week, with or without Yeats, none gladdened more hearts than a winner for the man who will always be treasured as the meeting's 20th-century archetype.

Henry Cecil's exquisite sensibilities have always been united most happily at the meeting with more clothes horses than the other kind. After becoming the first man to saddle 70 winners there, however, Cecil endured a barren run of seven years until a colt bearing the poignant name of Father Time won the King Edward VII Stakes on Friday.

Cecil's professional revival over the past three seasons or so, at a time when he has had to deal with so many private torments, has disclosed the bedrock of fortitude beneath all the silken flourishes of his wardrobe and personality. And while his health remains troubled, his touch with horses remains palpably undiminished – and with fillies, in particular.

So while it seems fairly random to stumble across midweek Listed races at Newcastle and Warwick, the fact that they are confined to fillies makes it almost inevitable that Cecil has eligible types in both.

Gripsholm Castle contests the EBF Hoppings Stakes at Newcastle after bounding clear of a better fancied stablemate – in the meantime second in the Ribblesdale Stakes – on her debut at Newmarket. She looked green that day, and her jockey did little more than hold her together, so she is entitled to make the improvement required by far more experienced rivals.

In the Eternal Stakes at Warwick, Honest Quality has a penalty for winning at this level last summer. She made a low-key resumption in the spring, but another "black-type" addition to her catalogue page as a mare would be priceless. For her own dam, Honest Lady, is one of four Group One winners produced by one of the outstanding modern broodmares, Toussaud.

Her owner, Khaled Abdulla, never wavered in his fidelity to Cecil, whose reputation as a trainer of fillies was sustained over the years by a number of other traditional owner-breeders. In moments of characteristic self-parody, Cecil likes to grumble how too many of those patrons have predeceased him.

But he is still in there fighting and Abdulla, as race sponsor, is keen to see Father Time try his luck at Group One level in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on Bastille Day. So that could prove another red-letter day in what is gradually evolving into a golden summer on the Flat.

Yeats Ascot plan gathers pace

In winning his fourth Gold Cup at Ascot last week, the theory is that Yeats defied the erosion of time. But few champions on the Flat are permitted to persevere to the age of eight, and the reality is he is probably now in his pomp. And there are very pragmatic reasons, also, why the suggestion that he might now run in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes merits very earnest respect.

In the wake of Dylan Thomas and Duke Of Marmalade, there is a painful void among the older horses at Ballydoyle this year. Yesterday Aidan O'Brien strongly suggested that his employer, John Magnier, might well drop Yeats to a mile and a half back at Ascot – in the process, of course, potentially disclosing a persuasive new dimension for his eventual career as a stallion.

"Obviously, it's up to the boss, but all the options are open to him and I suppose the first one that would be open to him is the King George," the trainer said. "After this weekend we'll probably all sit down and have a good chat about it. If you look at the way he travels through his races, when Johnny [Murtagh] says go, you see the way he accelerates. He was a very impressive winner of a Coronation Cup and at this time of year, when he's up into full speed, he's a very, very classy horse."

Stevie strikes a chord at Carlisle

The oldest prize in the calendar, the Carlisle Bell, was won yesterday by Stevie Gee at 20-1 – another feather in the cap of Alan Swinbank, who achieved the remarkable distinction in 2005 of winning both the Bell and the Cumberland Plate, the two most competitive handicaps of their type anywhere in the land. This time the Plate had a runaway winner in Overrule, whose trainer, Brian Ellison, also saddled the third – and is once again targeting the race he cherishes above all others. Born down the road from Gosforth Park on Northumberland Plate day in 1952, Ellison saddles Tilt and Carte Diamond on Saturday.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Minturno (5.30 Newcastle)

Has made a solid start to life in handicaps, just getting up over six furlongs at Redcar then looking well suited by this trip when forced wide and finishing best at Musselburgh the other day. Runs off the same mark here.

Next best

Aggbag (4.50 Warwick)

Obvious credentials without a penalty for his win in an apprentice race over course and distance a week ago. That was his first start for John Mackie and, granted his modest calibre, he may have turned over a new leaf.

One to watch

Love Action (R Hannon)

Was least fancied of her stable's four runners in a juvenile fillies' maiden at Newbury on Tuesday night, but stayed on really well through traffic for fourth. From Motivator's first crop, she looks certain to win races.

Where the money's going

Conduit is 6-4 from 3-1 for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with William Hill.

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