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Cecil Legacy Still Shining At Ascot

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djebel View Drop Down

Joined: 07 Mar 2007
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    Posted: 21 Jun 2018 at 5:16pm
By Chris McGrath

When you race here, you run against both the quick and the dead. That’s the real point of all this tradition, all this history: not the millinery and processions and car park picnics. Because the horses and people that contest a place in the vivid, teeming annals of Royal Ascot will also be measured against spectres that never fade.

It still hurts to think that these should now also include the man who, until yesterday, shared the status as the most prolific trainer in the meeting’s history. For while Sir Henry Cecil vested the last of his genius in the horse of a lifetime, he is not embroidered in the Royal Ascot pageant merely as the stoical wraith who saddled Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) to a second success at the meeting in 2012.

In yesterday claiming the record outright with his 76th and 77th career wins here, beginning with Poet’s Word (GB) (Poet’s Voice {GB}) in the featured G1 Prince of Wales’s S. and followed by Expert Eye (GB) (Acclamation {GB}) in the G3 Jersey S., Sir Michael Stoute will doubtless have thought back to the pomp of his old rival and neighbour.

For the majority of Cecil’s 73 winners other than Frankel were prepared by a character who achieved the same seamlessness, with the tapestry of Victorian Ascot, as he did between his own nature and the gorgeous flourishes–the buttonholes and Hermes ties and all the rest of it–that would have seemed superficial in anyone else.

So much for the immortal dead. Stoute also had to beat the deadly quick, aptly enough in the form of a champion from the first crop of Frankel himself. Cracksman (GB) appeared a daunting obstacle in the G1 Prince of Wales’s S., not least after a treble on the opening day had reiterated the way John Gosden, in recent years, has rather supplanted Stoute as the premier public trainer in Newmarket.

It reflects well on Gosden that he retained more courtesy and eloquence in the shock of defeat than most others manage in victory. This time his “crack” horse was all widening fissures, plainly not on the ball from the moment the gates opened.

Cracksman had been excused a laboured success at Epsom last month on account of the track, but now a closer look needs to be taken at his own idiosyncrasies. Perhaps he is becoming inattentive or idle, as Gosden speculated, but the suspicion is growing that the horse will always prove more engaged on softer ground.

Cracksman deserves plenty of credit for nonetheless pulling so far clear of the third, but was readily outpointed by Poet’s Word (Ire) (Poet’s Voice {GB}). As a flourishing 5-year-old, this was the perfect horse to elevate Stoute as the one against whom future generations of Ascot trainers will have to measure themselves.

“Coming into this race, this week, everyone was saying that Cracksman couldn’t be beaten,” said Charlie Gordon-Watson, who bought Poet’s Word for Saeed Suhail as a yearling. “But I just thought that with Michael in charge, it could happen. If there’s one man training racehorses anywhere in the world, to pull one out of the fire like that, it’s him. He’s got that incredible feel for older horses. You think a horse isn’t running that much and then, bang! A bit like Ulysses (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) last year.”

“At the time, 300,000gns was a lot of money for a Poet’s Voice,” Gordon-Watson added. “But to me, he’s the best-looking horse I’ve ever bought. And he moves so well. I bought him from Barry and Fiona Reilly of Woodcote Stud, fantastic breeders from whom I also bought [subsequent St Leger winner] Kingston Hill (GB) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}). I remember him very well: in the right yard at Tattersalls, third box on the right.”

The agent was equally certain that the underbidder, at Tattersalls Book 2 in 2014, was none other than Gosden. Such is the ebb and flow of a horseman’s calling, even at the highest level. But the things that set the best apart will abide, even when fashion turns against you–as it did against Cecil himself, of course. And then he came back here in 2011, to win the St James’s Palace S. with Frankel.

That year, Stoute reached a nadir with just 53 British winners. But he was back up to 111 in 2016, and last year won more domestic prizemoney than ever before. To his resilience, moreover, we can also add generosity. “Henry had a lot of four-day Royal Ascots,” he remarked. “So I’ve had an advantage with five.”

Expert Eye (GB) (Acclamation {GB}) made a spectacular renaissance of his own to complete Stoute’s double in the G3 Jersey S. It feels wrong for such a good race to have been shifted to the end of the card, but at least that brought things full circle on the day: Stoute’s first winner at the meeting was Etienne Gerard (GB) (Brigadier Gerard {GB}) in the 1977 running.

That’s 41 years ago. All these names–Stoute, Gosden and their late benchmark, Cecil–are associated with the kind of patience and husbandry that gradually carves out a niche in Turf history.

It was amusing to see the astonishment of the non-racing press when Amer Abdulaziz of Phoenix Thoroughbreds pronounced, after Signora Cabello (Ire) (Camacho {GB}) won the Queen Mary, that his organisation had a four-year plan to put itself “on the same level as Coolmore and Godolphin.” Those who have followed its emergence more closely know that Phoenix could not have made a more purposeful start. But it’s all about the long haul.

Phoenixes may rise. Cecil, for one, was certainly reborn from the ashes. But if his ultimate tragedy reminds us that it’s always just dust to dust, wherever we finish in the race, then at least Royal Ascot will keep his name immortal. Stoute, conversely, can now be celebrated as living history–and deserves the congratulations of us all.

reductio ad absurdum

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Joined: 30 Oct 2010
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote acacia alba Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Jun 2018 at 7:34pm
I was lucky enough to meet Sir Henry on 3 or 4 occaisons, and to visit Warren Place 4 times over the years, going back as far as when he trained Commander In Chief to win both Derbys.  And thats quite awhile ago now !! The last time was when Frankel was in residence.  Sir H was so quiet but so witty. He told a very funny story about riding in the Queens procession at Ascot, among other interesting stories.  There will never be another like him.
animals before people.
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