Henry & David Cecil – The Racing Twins Legacy
There are few people who would dispute the brilliance of the lamented Sir Henry Cecil as one of the best race horse trainers ever to grace the gallops anywhere in the world. He and his brother David, were both trainers to different degrees of success and this year sees the fiftieth anniversary of Henry’s first winner of 75 winners at Royal Ascot.
Sir Henry Cecil the first of twins, born in Aberdeen during the war in 1943. His parents were well off and his father was the younger brother to Lord Amherst. Henry and his twin brother David never know their father as his was killed in action serving in the parachute regiment shortly before they were born. His mother married again to racehorse trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort. Henry and David attended both prep and public private schools before both going to The Royal Agricultural College (now university) in Cirencester. Both were supposed to attend Eton College following in the footsteps of their step father, but their first claim to fame was to be the first students at their prep school to fail the common entrance exam to Eton – so they went to Canford School instead. Surrounded by horses of the highest calibre for most of their lives, it was no surprise that both Henry and David were to forge their careers in the training of thoroughbreds. They always had a huge bond with one another and to see them together, it was hard, very often to tell them apart. At Cirencester, and throughout their lives, both the Cecil boys were known for their ‘high jinks’ and flamboyancy. For example while at Cirencester, they painted daffodils on the main lawn in front of the house the night before the Queen arrived for an official visit!
After a stint at Woodland Stud, working for Lord Derby, in 1964, Henry went to work as assistant trainer for his step father Cecil Boyd-Rochfort for four years. It was here he learnt from one of the top trainers of the day, training some of the best racehorses in the world for some of the most influential celebrities of the time including King George VI and then for the current Queen Elizabeth. At the end of 1968, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort retired and in early 1969 Henry took out a trainers licence in an attempt to continue the family legacy. His first runner was sent out in April, Holyland at Ascot, and despite running well to begin with faded fast. The following month, he sent out his first winner at Ripon – a filly Celestial Cloud. Two months later, came Henry’s first Group 1 success with Wolver Hollow winning the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. The following year, Henry sent out his first of over 75 Royal Ascot winners, Parthenon – winner of the Queen Alexandra Stakes. It was not long before the best horses and most influential owners were flocking to Henry’s door including The Queen, and senior members of the Jockey Club of the time, among others, Lord Howard de Walden and Louis Freedman.
Meanwhile David Cecil also went into training but was not so successful. He worked for Peter Nelson in Lambourn until co-incidentally 1969, when he too began to train in his own right. He started with 12 horses and had five small time winners in his first season. He continued training until the end of 1971 when with only 34 horses in his yard and only six winners he had had enough. David then decided to become a bloodstock consultant, very successfully getting well-heeled clients, among them being Prince Faisal from Saudi Arabia – the first of a string of Arab Sheikhs to become involved in the industry and Daniel Wildenstein. He also manage Henry’s North Yorkshire stud Cliff Stud. Throughout his career, David was rather partial to the odd drink which became a habit rather out of control. After a period, while living at Cliff Stud, now with his second wife and effectively off the booze and living a settled life, he took to drinking heavily again and was continually caught drink driving. In 1992 was banned for five years. A year later he resigned all his positions of management and returned to Lambourn where he took over the Hare and Hounds public house. As the landlord, he did the cooking and a complete refurbishment, making the pub one of the best and most popular in whole of Berkshire. Unfortunately, David battled with the demon alcohol for the rest of his life and died at the early age of 57 in 2000.
In the meantime, Henry was enjoying spectacular and adored success. He was training classic and Group 1 winners on a regular basis from his yard in Newmarket – Warren Place – which he took over in 1976 from another great trainer, Sir Noel Murless. Between 1976 and 2002, Henry enjoyed star status. He became known for training fillies particularly and had phenomenal success with them, far more so than the colts.
When the Arabs came into racing in the seventies and invested huge sums into the sport of racing, Henry Cecil was their first port of call. Sheikh Mohammed sent Henry Oh So Sharp, the last horse to win the triple crown of the 1000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks and the St Ledger in 1985. This was not the first time Henry won classics. He had been doing that since 1973 when he won his first, the Irish 1000 Guineas with Cloonagh. Henry Cecil’s list of achievements is astounding. He sent out the winners of 4 Epsom Derbys, including Slip Anchor and Reference Point. He won the Epsom Oaks 8 times; The 2000 Guineas 3 times and the filly’s equivalent, the 1000 Guineas 6 times. He won the St Ledger on four occasions. Those were just his British Classic achievements so it comes as no surprise that he was champion trainer no less than ten times between 1976 to 1993.
However, no man can walk on water forever, and Henry was no exception. In 1995, the wheels fell off. Some of his early owners died but Sheikh Mohammed had 40 horses in training with him. One such horse was the beautiful looking Mark of Esteem, over whom the Sheikh and Henry had a disagreement over the horse’s fitness. The argument ended with all 40 horses being removed from Cecil one night. Henry’s fortunes had plummeted by 2006. His first wife and his head lad, accused but never proven of having an affair left the yard. In 2000 his twin brother, David’s died and Henry quite simply fell apart. All the magic appeared to have vanished. The winners dried up, the owners departed with indecent haste and so too did his second wife, also accused of having various affairs with top jockeys? In 2005, Henry was losing money, had only 50 horses in training as opposed to nearer 200, and saddled only 12 winners in the season. Many were suggesting that he should retire. He was left with only one very loyal owner, Khalid Abdulla. Added to all the woes – it was confirmed that Henry was being treated for cancer.
In 2007, the midas touch returned to Henry with his first classic winner for seven years, Light Shift who won the Epsom Oaks. Winners were starting to come once again.
In 2009, Henry’s stalwart friend and owner, Khalid Abdulla sent him a home bred yearling colt, Frankel. In 2010, as a two year old, this colt was unbeaten winning Group races, The Royal Lodge and the Dewhurst. In 2011 at three, Frankel won The 2000 Guineas in spectacular style as well as another three Group 1 races. Most racing pundits were now considering Frankel to be the best race horse ever to be seen on the racecourse. It was during 2011, when Frankel was three year old that Henry Cecil was knighted and thus became Sir Henry Cecil
for his services to racing. As a four year old, Frankel brought home the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes, Juddmonte International Stakes and another Royal Ascot win, The Queen Anne Stakes, all by margins of up to 10 lengths, and the Sussex Stakes for a second time. Timeform rated this horse at the highest ever rating of 147. Henry sent Frankel out for the final time in October 2012, to the Champion Stakes at Ascot, which he won and therefore finished with a record of 14 runs and 14 wins. After the race, Ascot was swamped with complete and raw emotion. Henry was by this time not at all well and continuing his cancer treatment, and everyone was now aware that this would be the last time we would ever see a Henry Cecil trained runner.
Henry said that Frankel was the best horse he had ever had or seen, which considering the horses he had had through his hands was some accolade in itself. Many believed that Frankel was responsible for keeping Henry alive longer than maybe otherwise would have been the case.
Since his untimely death in 2013, his extraordinary legacy lives on daily through, arguably his most prolific training success and best horse he ever trained – Frankel; now at stud in Newmarket, Great Britain.