Life And Career Of Sir Henry Cecil

On Monday 11th June 2013 legendary trainer Sir Henry Cecil passed away after a long battle with stomach cancer. He had 10 trainers’ titles to his name, 25 classic winners and a record 75 Royal Ascot winners. A much loved character of racing, Sir Henry was always a very fashionable and somewhat eccentric genius of the game. Most admired for not only his training ability but his undeniable courage not just to comeback from the scandals which plagued his career but also find the strength to battle cancer for many years.

Cecil was born on the 11 January 1943 in Aberdeen alongside his twin brother David, his father also Henry was killed in action with the Parachute regiment in North Africa just two weeks before the twin’s birth. His mother later remarried a Captain Cecil Boyd Rochfort a distinguished Irish born racehorse trainer. Despite the brothers upbringing around horses they had little interest in the Sport of King’s. A lack of decisiveness in the career department for the twins, forced their stepfather to take action and they were sent on work experience to Woodland Stud in Newmarket. Having found their interest in the thoroughbred they then went on to gain more experience on studs in both France and America. This was followed by an Animal Husbandry Course at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, before Cecil finally settled into his role of assistant trainer to his stepfather, November 1964.

After 40 years of constant success as a trainer, Boyd-Rochfort was struggling to move with the changing times within racing and therefore ultimately announced his retirement leaving Cecil at the helm of, by this stage a relatively limited string. Approximately eight years later Cecil became champion trainer for the first time, enjoying ample success with horses such as Slip Anchor and Oh So Sharp to name but a few. These successes enabled him to buy Warren Place, his home till the end.

A somewhat colourful character, for Cecil the nineties saw a change in his fortunes, plagued by scandals and bad publicity which amongst other things, resulted in the end of his first marriage to Julie Murless after an alleged affair. All of this added to the general dissatisfaction surrounding him and he lost many owners over this period including the incredibly powerful Sheikh Mohammed. During this time his string of horses diminished and he failed to even feature in the trainers premierships. Another blow came in 2006 when he first got diagnosed with stomach cancer.

A lesser man may have given up at this point but for Cecil this was merely a bump in the road, he was rewarded for his endeavours when in 2007 he won his eighth Oaks with Light Shift. From here he never looked back, he was knighted in 2011 at the Queen’s birthday honours, numbers in his struggling stable increased and the winners were once again a plentiful, his battles with cancer the only thorn in his heal.

Ironically the pinnacle of his training career came right at the end, in the form of Frankel, for one of his most loyal and supportive owners Prince Khalid Abdullah. The now retired colt was unbeaten in his 14 starts on the track and is currently rated the best horse in the world. Even through the ravages of cancer Cecil never missed a beat, the horses his greatest inspiration to keep motivated, Frankel showcasing these efforts on the track.

With the Cecil trained Joyeuse a half sister to Frankel heading for the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot next week, it would be a fairytale if, in the aftermath of his passing she could become his 76th Royal Ascot winner. Sir Henry Richard Amerhurst Cecil leaves behind a wife Jane, a son Noel and daughter Katie from his first marriage and a son Jake from his second marriage. He will be remembered by all with no uncertainty as an exceptional trainer whose career is the stuff of legend.


Four English Derby’s

  • 1985 Slip Anchor
  • 1987 Reference Point
  • 1993 Commander in Chief
  • 1999 Oath     

Eight English Oaks

  • 1985 Oh So Sharp
  • 1988 Diminuendo
  • 1989 Snow Bride
  • 1996 Lady Carla
  • 1997 Reams of Verse
  • 1999 Ramruma
  • 2000 Love Divine
  • 2007 Light Shift

Six English 1,000 Guineas

  • 1979 One in A Million
  • 1981 Fairy Footsteps
  • 1985 Oh So Sharp
  • 1996 Bosra Sham
  • 1997 Sleepytime
  • 1999 Wince

Three English 2,000 Guineas

  • 1975 Bolkonski
  • 1976 Wollow
  • 2011 Frankel

Four English St Legers

  • 1980 Light Cavalry
  • 1985 Oh So Sharp
  • 1987 Reference Point
  • 1989 Michelozzo

By Emily Murphy


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