Many of you would have seen the Channel 4 documentary “The Trainer and the Racehorse: The Legend of Frankel” advertised recently and I’m sure many of you interested in racing would have watched it. As soon as I heard about it I knew I wanted to watch it. However, I had mixed feelings about it. As much as I believe Frankel was a truly amazing horse, I didn’t want it to skip over the story of the amazing trainer Henry Cecil. Luckily, I was not disappointed!
“There was something about Henry Cecil which commanded affection just as easily as admiration.” – Ian Chadband
As much as we can argue that very few (if any) racehorse trainers come from nothing, Henry Cecil really had a hard time of it. He lost his twin brother to cancer in the early 90’s, lost his father to the war before he was born, had two failed marriages, was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and finally lost his battle in 2013 at the age of 70. Despite all of this, he is possibly one of the greatest trainers the UK has ever seen, achieving champion trainer 10 times.
He had an amazing early career in the 70’s and 80’s, with as many as 180 wins in a season. However, this didn’t last and by the 21st century he was down on his luck with very few wins at the races. It is widely believed that problems in his personal life are partly responsible for his lack of success on the track. But to be honest, who can blame him. Very few of us would have dealt any better with what he was going through, especially when other members of the industry started talking behind his back and saying he should just give up.
“Look, there’s that Henry Cecil…he should have retired a few years ago” – whispers from Newmarket
However, Henry often said that it was this talk from other trainers that drive him to get back to the top. In the later years of his life he was given the young Frankel to train by Prince Khalid Abdullah (Frankel’s owner) one of the few owners to stand by Henry in his ‘dark days’. You should know the rest after that, Frankel took him right back up to the top.
The documentary also goes into Frankel himself. It explores how no one thought he was going to be the amazing horse he was at first. A few people thought he could be something special due to his competitive nature and larger than average stride. However, it was his temperament which many people also thought would be his downfall, as how many horses can gallop flat out from the start of a race and still win or not burn themselves out? It just goes on to show how Henry managed to train Frankel’s mentality, not just his physical performance.
“If the public go racing and want to say ‘hello’ and get an autograph, I think ‘if I rush off, it could ruin that person’s day’” – Henry Cecil
My Granddad had a lot to do with Newmarket racecourse and as a child he took me around many of the studs and I met Henry Cecil. My family has always really valued him and he really was a very charismatic intelligent man. As great as Frankel was, I want Henry Cecil to be remembered as the great trainer he was, through the good and the bad and not just as the man who trained Frankel. I think Channel 4’s documentary did this very well and is definitely worth a watch.
“I do everything by instinct really, not by the book. I like to think I’ve got a feeling for and understand my horses, that they tell me what to do really.” – Henry Cecil