OUR FAVOURITE 12 FROM THE MASTER; HENRY CECIL WEEK.
But that was not the case when Le Moss put Henry Cecil on the victory roll of honour in 1979. The colt had his owner for company as Lester Piggott unsaddled his ninth winner of the royal meeting's feature race, but his trainer was not joining in the celebrations.
Cecil was to be found just a few yards away, but seemingly a million miles away from savouring the joy of his triumph. Mixed emotions over having had first and second? Not even that. Wearing a concerned expression, as Joe Mercer removed the tack from runner-up Buckskin, the trainer could only focus on that horse's condition.
Cecil had trained him for less than a year and he had soon recognised in him both talent of a very high order and physical problems that would prove difficult to overcome. In 1978 he had got him to the racecourse, heavily bandaged, only twice, for eight-length victories in the Doncaster and Jockey Club Cups.
There were misgivings over bringing Buckskin back for another campaign at six, when feet and forelegs deteriorated further. He was always worked on a tight rein, but invariably had to be poulticed afterwards.
With soft ground at Sandown to help him, he won the Henry II Stakes by 15 lengths, so he had to go to Ascot and was sure to start odds-on, but Cecil felt that his completing the course unscathed could be little better than even money. Whatever happened, the Gold Cup would have to be his last race.
His fears proved valid. On the faster ground at Ascot Buckskin was never travelling comfortably, but that did not stop him from duelling with his stablemate until the final furlong, where the younger one gained the upper hand.
Once assured that Buckskin had returned safe, if not sound, Cecil paid tribute to "the greatest and bravest horse I've trained". Only he could fully appreciate how far above and beyond the call of duty the six-year-old had performed.
Midday HENRY CECIL is enjoying a renaissance, but in some parts, there had never been a first coming, let alone the second. In the US, he was little more than a name, admired and respected by those few people prepared to look outside their own borders, but, to the vast majority of American racing fans, a virtual unknown. Midday changed all that.
The likes of Bosra Sham and Indian Skimmer would rank higher. However, none of the fillies that came before Midday (right) have done as much to celebrate the genius of Cecil on a world stage and, for that reason, she rises to the top of this particular pecking order.
Cecil's runners at the Breeders' Cup had been few and far between. Yet in the build-up to last year's Santa Anita showdown, he made clear his desire to right that wrong, as well as charming the locals.
And to see Midday attach Cecil's name to the roll of honour was something special indeed. At any international sporting event, be it an Olympics, a Wimbledon or - God forbid - a football World Cup, there is always a desire to see one of your own triumph. And Cecil has for decades been the biggest one of ours.
In his affections also, Midday must now occupy a very special place.
Slip Anchor THERE has to be a personal context to memories for them to earn storage space in the mental file marked 'Very Special', and Slip Anchor secured his niche by winning the Lingfield Derby Trial during the first year of my tenure as a cub reporter at the course's local newspaper.
I went along to watch this stylish dismissal of a perfectly decent field and then treated East Grinstead Courier readers to a glowing appraisal and (what I recall as) a confident and authoritative recommendation to back him heavily to win at Epsom.
I wrote these words partly because there were precious few opportunities to write about racing in local rags and partly so I could keep a straight face when my editor queried my expenses claim, but I turned out not to be wrong.
Looking back, Slip Anchor's majestic, brutal and often underrated Derby success remains among the most impressive I've seen, but the simple facts, that this son and grandson of Derby winners burst from the stalls like an apricot-coloured bat out of hell, descended the hill with the sure-footed alacrity of a turbo-charged mountain goat and retained his remorseless momentum all the way to the post, to finish seven lengths ahead of Law Society, were hardly the point.
This was the year when the rakishly dapper 42-year-old Henry Cecil began the transition from demi-god to fully fledged god, teaming up with the immaculate Steve Cauthen to produce a roaring torrent of Classic winners. It was a year when racing's tectonic plates began to shift irreversibly, as old-fashioned owner-breeders like Lord Howard de Walden enjoyed their last hurrahs and Cecil's ill-fated association with an up-and-coming sheikh called Mohammed hit its stride.
Slip Anchor injured himself in his box soon after the Derby and raced only once more, as a four-year-old, finishing second in the Jockey Club Stakes. But his place as a very special horse in a dying era was already assured.
Indian Skimmer AH YES, the Indian Skimmer, that rarest of birds, brightly marked in black, white and orange and difficult to miss.
The equine Indian Skimmer was pretty difficult to miss as well. Arguably number one among the litany of top-class fillies to have graced Henry Cecil's exalted career, she was certainly the most spectacular: a distinctive grey flash evincing an unforgettable turn of foot with which she regularly destroyed her rivals at the top level.
Although Indian Skimmer won major Group races across three seasons, never was this more evident than during an unbeaten three-year-old campaign in 1987 when glimpses of her startling acceleration lit up the European turf.
I say European, because her most memorable victory was achieved in France, when Sheikh Mohammed's brilliant filly tamed none other than the great Miesque in a memorable clash. Okay, the famed French miler was trying 1m2f for the one and only time of her career, but Indian Skimmer certainly let her know who was boss that day at Chantilly, treating the supposedly invincible Miesque with a degree of contempt as she was handed her first defeat with a four-length drubbing.
Indian Skimmer went on to win ten of her 16 starts, beating the continent's top colts the following season in both the Irish Champion Stakes at the now defunct Phoenix Park and the Newmarket version. For good measure, she looked sure to claim the Breeders' Cup Turf - back when Cecil largely eschewed international racing - a furlong out before fading to third after a questionable ride from Michael Roberts.
On a personal level, few racehorses have left their mark to quite such an extent. On my 21st birthday in June 1988, at a time when I was joint-president of the university turf society, I was alerted to a parcel delivered to the porter's lodge. It was a birthday cake, sent from Wimbledon by my Auntie Sally and decorated with a work of art painted on the layer of icing on top.
Needless to say, it was Indian Skimmer. Thanks again, Auntie Sally - and thanks Henry.
Old Vic THE eye scans down the racecard, looking for a hook to hang upon. In the late 1980s, Henry Cecil was the safest hook in the book.
I'd taken my girlfriend Clare to the races for the first time, Greenham Stakes day at Newbury in 1989, and we struggled to find a winner. However, Cecil had the favourite in the fifth race, and we decided to back it with everything we had left.
At that stage Old Vic was just a name, just a vehicle for a little shot of Cecil magic. We dredged up ten pounds from the depths of pockets and handbag, found a bookie with 11-10 on his board and took it.
Old Vic cantered in by ten lengths. Cecil had one more runner, Monsagem in the last, so again we trusted him with all we had and again our faith was rewarded. After that we had more than enough for a night of lurid cocktails on the King's Road; we clinked our glasses to Henry Cecil.
Sadly, the relationship was over by the time Old Vic (below) had won the Prix du Jockey Club and Irish Derby - what a failsafe conveyance for our last tenner he must have been.
Recently, I met Clare again, and when I mentioned I worked for the Racing Post she had Old Vic's name ready as though it had happened only yesterday. "Whenever the subject comes up," she said, "I always say the only thing I know about horseracing is that Henry Cecil is the best trainer in the world."
In 20 years, I don't imagine she found anyone to argue with her.
Bosra Sham "SHE'S got them cooked... the others are plodding!" And no one could deny the call as the four-year-old annihilated the plodders in the Prince of Wales's Stakes in 1997 - a performance so scintillating it prompted Henry Cecil to pronounce her "probably the best horse I have trained". Bet he says that about all the girls.
Racing memories don't come better than being out of a job for that Royal Ascot, with few prospects - least of all of engineering a life-saving bet on the best filly you have seen for years (she was 4-11). It's a real opportunity to just relax and appreciate the horse.
Bosra Sham, a fantastically talented but apparently fragile filly, won the previous year's 1,000 Guineas but didn't return until September, to run in the QEII and be beaten only by Mark Of Esteem (no mug, but you know that). Then she made light of Halling (neither a mug) in the Champion Stakes.
Keeping horses in training was possibly less fashionable than ever, but the decision led to that magnificent thrashing in the Prince of Wales's by eight lengths of Alhaarth (no Halling, but so what?).
The Eclipse was at her mercy. Now Bosra Sham's career is a bit pock-marked by comparison with some of these and obviously there's this one particularly large pock of her Eclipse defeat, but it wasn't entirely her fault and no one should perceive a flaw in the horse.
On the contrary, Cecil perceived a flaw in Kieren Fallon. But hey - it's Henry Cecil Week! We're not here to dig up unpleasantness. So don't study her tangled non-passage at Sandown, but those brilliant wins at Newmarket and Ascot. (She ran only once, in the Juddmonte International, after the Eclipse, and got beat again.) So was she "probably the best"? It was 1996 and 1997 after all - perhaps she was only the best of late middle-period Cecil. Then again, none other than John Randall has produced his celebratory slide rule for Cecil Week and gauged her the best filly the trainer has cared for. Say no more.
Reference Point THE halcyon days of Henry Cecil were undoubtedly the late 1980s, with Steve Cauthen firmly established as stable jockey, and no horse epitomised their allconquering partnership better than Reference Point.
Plagued by serious sinus problems in the spring of 1987 - which necessitated a major operation - the colt, a notoriously lazy worker at home, returned in the Dante with Cecil convinced he was only 75 per cent fit.
Yet Reference Point - or 'Herbie' to his devotees - thundered round the Knavesmire to break the track record in what was to become his trademark front-running fashion, and run the perfect Derby trial. Such power. Such pace. Such presence. Such class.
The son of Mill Reef was so laid-back that he never came out of the stalls like lightning. Cauthen had to stoke him up vigorously in the early stages of the Derby, but once he'd settled into his mighty stride at Epsom, defeat was out of the question.
Reference Point had the perfect ally in the amazingly talented American, who revolutionised race-riding in Britain. Cauthen would get the fractions spot-on, stick to the inside rail like glue - saving lengths in the process - and, when he asked for a final response, the colt would accelerate and deliver.
British-owned and bred, and sporting the attractive yellow and black colours of Louis Freedman, Reference Point was an embodiment of all the traditions and excellence of the turf that attracted me to racing all those years ago.
A framed photo of Herbie still takes pride of place on my office wall. Some horse; some trainer.
Kris WHEN this series was first proposed I did not hesitate to snap up Kris.
For me he embodied the qualities I admire most in a racehorse - a supreme athlete, blessed with good looks, exhilarating speed, boundless enthusiasm and generosity, plus class in abundance. On top of that, he was handled superbly over three seasons by a master trainer and the most sporting of owner-breeders.
I took a real shine to Kris when he beat Hardgreen in the Horris Hill, and when he thrived in the winter and took the Greenham on his reappearance I was pretty confident he would go on and win the 2,000 Guineas. I still cannot quite explain how he came to be beaten by the exposed 20-1 chance Tap On Wood, but my belief in him was vindicated when he went on to establish himself as his generation's outstanding miler.
He rattled up successive wins in the Heron Stakes, the St James's Palace, the Sussex, the Waterford Crystal Mile, the QEII and the Challenge, and returned the following year to add the Lockinge and two further wins in a campaign compromised by a muscle problem. You can take your pick from any of his 14 wins from just 16 runs, but for me the most memorable was his QEII drubbing of Foveros and Jellaby.
What a horse. One of my all-time favourites.
Falkland IT WAS 1971. The lad behind the counter in the betting shop in King Street, Cambridge, was said to be the son of Henry Cecil's head lad. When a friend and I told him that we were going to Newmarket's Craven meeting, he told us that Falkland was a certainty in the maiden race.
Cecil, 28, was in only his third season as a trainer but there was already a familiarity about ownerbreeder Lord Howard de Walden's apricot colours and stoneface stable jockey Greville Starkey.
We watched Realm win the Abernant Stakes and Super Honey the Nell Gwyn, and then it was the last race, the April Maiden Plate over one and a half miles, with 15 runners, the race that mattered.
Falkland was almost black, with a triangle of white on his forehead. Backed in from 7-4 to 11-10 favourite, Starkey spent the last half-mile laughing at his toiling rivals, and won easily. Falkland then won another maiden race at Newmarket, for maidens at closing, by four lengths, from 25 opponents, at odds-on.
I liked Falkland, his shiny blackness and the memory of that first, exciting success. Falkland went on to finish a close third in that year's St Leger and, the year after, gave Cecil his first of many successes in the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot, a race then open to four-year olds, before winning the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket.
If injury had not intervened, Falkland might have scaled greater heights. Even so, I remember him, and I'm sure Cecil does too.
Oh So Sharp SHE was a star and so were they. Henry Cecil and Steve Cauthen came together in 1985 and Oh So Sharp's Triple Crown gave them a start that all of us could treasure.
She was not very big. She had a rather narrow, deer-like neck and quite big ears, set aside her slightly plain chestnut head. But she could run and how Cauthen could ride her. It started in the Nell Gwyn and just got better.
The three-way finish in the 1,000 Guineas in which Oh So Sharp (left) and Cauthen got up in the very last stride from Tony Murray on Al Bahathri and Lester Piggott on Bella Colora is still burned in the memory.
She had a lot to do from the furlong pole but Cauthen had the top sportsman's knack of hastening slowly. She nailed them right on the line and, having won all three races as a two-year-old, it ensured she was unbeaten in five efforts on the track.
She won the Oaks even more impressively and, while the Channel 4 cameras covered all her races bar her unlucky neck defeat by Petoski in the King George, the only time she let us down was when beaten by Commanche Run at York.
Her season only lasted from April to September, but by the time she and Cauthen cantered to the start for the St Leger she had become a familiar, shining fixture in our memories.
When she came home to win the fillies' Triple Crown she ensured that the gloss will never fade.
One In A Million THE day that changed the face of Britain, Thursday May 3 1979, as the nation voted in its first woman Prime Minister and Henry Cecil saddled the first of his six 1,000 Guineas winners. 'Try a double: Maggie - One In A Million', the Sporting Life's front-page headline exhorted and, in truth, the future prosperity of the country's punters was in secure hands, gloved in velvet. Cecil's deft touch with distaffers produced the whippet-like filly in perfect condition to justify her status as winter favourite for the Classic and reward those of us who had supported her on every step of her career.
Victories as a two-year-old in Ascot's Blue Seal Stakes and, unusually for a top juvenile filly, against colts in Newmarket's Houghton Stakes, preceded a stroll in the Nell Gwyn at three. She went to the Classic as evens favourite and Joe Mercer hardly had to ask for the dazzling burst of speed that settled the outcome fully three furlongs from home.
But time was running out and at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes, she was unable to hold Harry Wragg's Buz Kashi but was awarded the race because of interference to a beaten horse.
When One In A Million stepped into the ring for the final round of her six-race, twocourse - Ascot and Newmarket - career it was clear the game was up. She looked like a brittle doll beside the US visitor Topsider and winner Thatching.
Doubly well named as a daughter of Rarity, a stallion with low fertility, there was another notable aspect to One In A Million's Guineas success in the black, white spots of Helena Springfield Ltd as the soft-furnishings firm was the first limited company to have its colours carried to victory in a British Classic. The era of private enterprise had begun.
Ardross ARDROSS didn't arrive at Warren Place until the end of his four-year-old season in 1980, having already finished runner-up to Le Moss in the Gold Cup when trained by the great Paddy Prendergast, who also bred him.
There is no doubt that Ardross, a wonderful battler, scaled fresh heights in his incarnation with Henry Cecil and he put together a career tally of 13 Group races. He forged a terrific partnership with Lester Piggott, whose ability to switch horses off and get them to travel sweetly suited most horses, but helped stayers in particular.
Ardross won the Ascot Gold Cup in 1981 and repeated the feat 12 months on in 1982. But aside from his durability, what set Ardross apart from most stayers was that he had enough speed and class to mix it with the best at middle distances.
The zenith of his performances at a mile and a half came in the 1982 Prix de l'Arc De Triomphe when under a no-quarter drive from Piggott he failed by just a head to reel in the Aga's top filly Akiyda. It was an astounding performance from a reigning Ascot Gold Cup winner and huge testament to Ardross's versatility - thorough stamina marbled through with middle-distance speed.
Sadly the increasing antipathy towards stamina meant Ardross never got the chances at stud that he deserved.
But in his racecourse pomp he was a genuine Cecil star, a joy to behold with Piggott perched confidently on top with two to travel, and one of the five best Gold Cup winners of the last 50 years.
Who is your idea of the best Henry Cecil-trained horse? Old Vic took my breath away when winning the French Derby by seven lengths. He was a relentless galloper, always ridden to perfection by Steve Cauthen, and it was such a shame he was never pitched against Nashwan. NEWHALEN Kris - his best miler. baffie, Norway Oh So Sharp - magnificent to look at. Like all the best fillies, she looked like a colt.
tofdcat It has to be Indian Skimmer for her Prix Diane win.
Rgosportmum Le Moss was a truly great stayer but he really needed two miles plus. Ardross was phenomenal and was unlucky not to win the Arc. Lester Piggott said he was the best stayer he rode.
seevenneb Bosra Sham is the best filly I have seen, a truly beautiful specimen who had a killer turn of pace to match.
Adam86 Oh So Sharp - one of the greatest of all time.
allalong Because she is the only horse to win the Triple Crown in 40 years, albeit the fillies' equivalent, it would have to be Oh So Sharp.
The-Templar The day Bosra Sham won the Champion Stakes she was in a different league amoooon, United Arab Emirates Bosra Sham. My best racing memory is of her skipping away to win the Champion Stakes as a three-yearold.
Monte Prince, Japan
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2010|
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