A black-tie event dictates that, for gentlemen at least, a black dinner suit is worn with a white shirt. Every guest obeyed this sartorial lesson at the 2011 ROA Horseracing Awards, save one. Sir Henry Cecil, on duty to collect an award for Frankel, had decided that a blue shirt would suffice. And who could dare argue?
On the racecourse, Cecil stood out from his contemporaries with his phenomenal tally of top-class winners. Most trainers are lucky to have one brilliant horse cross their path yet Cecil developed and guided the careers of dozens. It would take an entire magazine to do the list of champions justice.
His passing leaves British racing without its most accomplished performer, someone who represented the very best that the sport had to offer. The Woodstock music festival was just months away when Cecil sent out his first winner at Ripon in May 1969; 45 years later, he was still doing what he loved, training horses and, above all, enjoying success.
That he came back from the doldrums, following a period when he trained so few horses and winners that many observers thought his career was finished, was testament to his character and perhaps his finest achievement of all.
Unlike most racing folk, Cecil never liked to reminisce about past glories. In early 2010, speaking to Julian Muscat in an interview for this magazine, he said: “It’s like a lot of racing books – I find them boring. They write about how they won this race and that, how they would have won by a short-head but for this and that, so many years ago… it’s pretty dull I think.”
Dull is not a word that could ever have been associated with Cecil and neither, I hope, is our tribute to the trainer that starts on page 10. All of the beautiful images were taken by our photographer, George Selwyn.
Royal Ascot might have been expected to suffer without its winning-most son but this year’s meeting did not. In fact, it may have been the best ever, courtesy of some sensational finishes and emotional scenes.
Lady Cecil’s interview after Riposte captured the Ribblesdale Stakes would have left few viewers unmoved and it was heartbreaking to see Johnny Murtagh walking back to the weighing-room after his mount Thomas Chippendale, another Warren Place star, died after bravely landing the Hardwicke Stakes.
The Queen had waited a long time for another Group 1 success and Estimate duly delivered for Her Majesty under a forceful Ryan Moore in the Gold Cup. I suspect the footage of our monarch watching the closing stages of that contest, with her Racing Manager John Warren going bananas at her side, will be repeated once or twice in the near future.
Royal Ascot is, of course, one of the jewels in the crown of British racing and doubtless something Steve Harman will be pleased to have onside as he joins the British Horseracing Authority as its new Chairman, replacing Paul Roy, who will not be lost to the sport as he becomes Chairman of charity Retraining of Racehorses.
A lot has happened since Harman accepted the post, including the steroids scandal and race-fixing convictions, yet the man who made his name in the oil and gas industry seems to have a burning passion for the Sport of Kings, as he reveals in an exclusive interview with Owner & Breeder.
“This is one of the sexiest sports in the world,” he tells Howard Wright. “The whole experience is unprecedented.
“A lot of people talk about other countries and their Tote monopoly systems, but look as British racing’s assets. Where in the world do you get the breadth of involvement that we have?
“There is an opportunity to increase the revenue in British racing and I’ve got a background in that sort of area. I don’t like blowing my own trumpet but I believe I have got a level of humility and am a good listener.”
His excellent listening skills will be tested in due course, as meetings are planned with the RCA, ROA, TBA, Bookmakers’ Committee, Levy Board, REL, Horsemen’s Group, Great British Racing, government ministers…
We wish Mr Harman all the very best in his new role.