Frankel trainer Henry Cecil dies after cancer battle

Horse trainer Henry Cecil pictured with the now retired Frankel at Royal Ascot in 2012.

Story highlights

  • British horse trainer Henry Cecil dies aged 70
  • Cecil trained unbeaten "wonder horse" Frankel
  • The 10-time champion trainer had fought a long battle with cancer

It is a bittersweet irony that, after a four-decade career which saw Henry Cecil train thousands of racehorses, he will forever be remembered for just one -- Frankel.

It is now almost impossible to mention Cecil, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancer, without mentioning Frankel in the same breath.

Yet the master trainer had already done more than enough to stake his claim to being one of the greatest trainers ever to grace the turf before the bay colt with the four white feet arrived at his Newmarket yard in 2010.

Cecil was born in 1943 into an aristocratic family. He used to claim, with typical self-deprecation, that he was the first person from his prep school to ever fail the Eton entrance exam.

He obtained his training license in 1969 and rapidly began chalking up a string of notable successes. In 1973 he tasted his first Classic success, with Cloonagh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

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Two years later he captured his first English Classic with Bolkonski in the 2,000 Guineas -- a race he later also won with Frankel. He won the first of his four Epsom Derbys with Slip Anchor in 1985, the year he also won the "Fillies' Triple Crown" with Oh So Sharp.

But the 10-time champion trainer experienced a dramatic fall from grace in the early years of the 21st century. His colorful personal life had taken him from stalwart of the racing pages to the front page of the British tabloid News of the World.

At the same time, his relationship with Sheikh Mohammed, one of his principle owners, broke down, resulting in the removal of 40 of the Dubai ruler's horses from Cecil's care.

The arrival of Frankel into his yard in the twilight of his career marked a return to prominence after a period in the wilderness in which Cecil later admitted he considered retirement. He became a "Sir" after being knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth in 2011 for his services to racing.

"He was one of the finest trainers of racehorses that the sport has ever witnessed," Professional Jockeys' Association joint president Steve Drowne said.

"His influence over generations of jockeys is renowned and those who rode for him benefited hugely from his knowledge and experience. He will be much missed by all of us."

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Frankel, the son of champion sire Galileo, went on to win 14 races in an undefeated three-year career and is regarded by many as the greatest racehorse ever produced. Cecil is widely credited with managing Frankel's career with delicacy and intelligence, allowing the colt to fulfill his potential.

In 2006 it had been revealed that Cecil was undergoing treatment for stomach cancer. By 2012, his condition appeared to have worsened and, blighted by ill-health, he missed a number of important races, including Frankel's successful defense of the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

But he was determined to be present at the Juddmonte International Stakes at York, which is where the iconic image of the trainer, braced against the elements in his trilby as he raged against the dying of the light, became imprinted on the racing public's consciousness.

As a stunned crowed watched Frankel demolish his rivals on his first outing over a mile and a quarter, a frail and visibly withered Cecil, never one for great displays of emotion, permitted himself a smile. Asked how Frankel's win had made him feel, barely audible, he whispered: "Young again."

Frankel was, of course, named after legendary American trainer Bobby Frankel, who succumbed to his own battle with cancer in 2009.

Frankel is now enjoying a career a stud, with the first of his progeny due to set foot on the racetrack in 2016. It would a fitting tribute to the genius behind Frankel's remarkable career if one of those sons or daughters were to bear the name Cecil.