Henry Cecil in all his glory as Frankel bows out of racing
PARIS, France (AFP) — Henry Cecil may come from an aristocratic background and have been knighted for his services to racing but the legendary trainer remains to the racegoing public simply 'Our 'Enry'.
It is a testament to his enduring popularity that a sell-out crowd of 40,000 will be at Ascot today not just to see what is expected to be his unbeaten stable star Frankel's 14th and last race, but also because of the man himself.
For despite an inherent shyness Cecil has managed to build a special bond with the average punter due to both his extraordinary ability and his courageous battle first with stomach cancer and latterly with throat cancer.
Increasingly frail the 69-year-old insisted on being present at York in August where Frankel won the International Stakes.
The magnetic draw of the duo was evident in the crowd rising from 19,000 to 31,000.
However, showing the determination that has been a feature of his life, those that turn up believing it may be the last they see of him as a trainer couldn't be further off the mark.
"I'm all right, and the only retirement I'm going to do is to have a good holiday," he said last month after there were reports of his imminent retirement.
It is not the first time Cecil has had to battle physical and personal demons, with two divorces, his first to the immensely popular Julie, daughter of Noel Murless, whose stables Warren Place he took over in 1976 after being assistant to him and then training in his own right from 1969.
Now happily married to Jane, who casts a protective shield round him, it is at Warren Place where he has been able to retire to and relax tending his beloved roses and from where the family pennant flies whenever a Group One winner was posted.
That tradition came to a juddering halt from 2000-2006, a six-year hiatus which began with the death from stomach cancer of his beloved twin brother David — born 10 minutes after him.
Despite his dislike of public speaking Cecil gave a moving tribute to David at his funeral.
"For many years people would remark that David followed in my shadow but, in the end, that was to prove so very, very wrong," said Cecil, who never knew his father as he was born a fortnight after he was killed in North Africa in World War II.
"I knew him better than anyone. He has been so brave and never gave up his will to live. He was truly the better half."
The 10-time champion trainer, who in 2011 was knighted for his services to racing joining coincidentally a select club of five which includes Murless, showed similar mettle when he recorded just 12 winners in 2005 and some people advised him to call it a day.
"That's Henry Cecil. He should have retired a long time ago," was a remark he heard himself on the Newmarket gallops.
If anything it only served to motivate him and partly on the back of giving up drink — his mother and brother were alcoholics — the old magic returned.
"I'd had divorces, financial problems, I'd lost my driving licence. I became like a hermit," he told The Independent last year.
"I was quite depressed. It was a time when everything was getting on top of me, with my brother dying, the horses dwindling to nothing. And it wasn't helping. So I gave it (drink) up, just like that."
His revival was confirmed when in 2007 Light Shift won the Epsom Oaks for his 24th British classic winner.
Rarely given to too much self appraisal he gave a rare insight into how painful those barren years must have been to this distinctly proud man.
"I might not be (competitive) on the outside," Cecil told the Independent.
"But I am on the inside, definitely — underneath, very competitive. Always have been. We like winning, you know. We do like winning.
"It's what motivates you. Nobody likes failure. Your horses are running badly, or they're no good, you get jealous of everybody else. It's not quite so much fun, is it?"
Frankel — the best horse Cecil confesses he has ever seen — has made it a lot of fun over the past three seasons for him and today in the Champion Stakes the stage is set for the knight of the realm to experience his moment of crowning glory on a remarkable career.