Henry Cecil- a belated tribute

With the passing of Henry Cecil in June it is worth considering his place in the pantheon of the great trainers. It is also worth looking back on the subsequent impact of his runners in the breeding sheds.  Surprisingly, for such a successful trainer over such a long career, Henry trained very few important stallions.

Ranking as a trainer

As a ten time champion trainer, its obvious that Henry Cecil must take very high rank amongst the list of great trainers.  However for me, there are a few factors that temper my enthusiasm for ranking him anywhere near Vincent O’Brien, who is the benchmark for trainers.

1. Firstly Henry had it easy. He came from a privileged background being a stepson of champion trainer and Royal trainer Cecil Boyd Rochfort and his early marriage to Julie Murless (daughter of another champion trainer and Royal trainer) meant he was quickly seated at racing’s top table.  His starting position would have taken others a decade or more to achieve.

2. Apart from Wolver Hollow’s Eclipse in his first season his early years were underwhelming. A lot of tributes talk about Henry’s instinctive way with horses, however to me if there is nothing significant happening for a number of years it looks less like genius and more of a gradual tweaking of the same old methods used by others. Henry may have had a reputation for working his horses hard at Newmarket but he wasn’t much of an innovator in his methods. Gradual improvements in staff, methods and stock are a road map to training success but they are rooted in the ordinary rather than in genius.

3. Henry largely ignored the rest of the world. Henry may have felt that British racing was the best in the world but in his heyday he spurned many opportunities for his runners overseas. His tally of two US wins (Yashmak  in 1997 and Midday in 2009) is very underwhelming given the relatively easy pickings available in the US for turf horses. His tally of 6 Irish classics is also less than one would expect.  In my view, his Anglo-centric approach didn’t do justice to his horses or his owners by ignoring the opportunities that were available throughout the world.

4. He didn’t succeed with sprinters. I don’t know the reason for this but it is noticeable that he never trained a really top class sprinter and almost all of the big sprints are absent from his cv.

Great Stallions trained by Henry


Very Good Stallions trained

1. Kris (1976 Sharpen Up- Doubly Sure by Reliance).

Kris was a superb miler who should have won the Guineas and won 14 of his 16 races. His first crop yielded the outstanding Cecil trained triple crown winner Oh So Sharp (1982 Kris ex Oh So Fair by Graustark). His second crop yielded Irish 2000 Guineas winner Flash of Steel (1983 Kris ex Spark of Fire by Run the Gauntlet). His final career stats show 75 black type winners from 846 foals, a very creditable 9% and include other Group 1 winners such as Shavian, Rafha and Balisada. However Kris is regarded as a fillies sire and no important sire sons have emerged to continue his male line.

2. Diesis (1980 Sharpen Up- Doubly Sure by Reliance)

A brother to Kris, Diesis was a brilliant two year old who achieved a rare Middle Park, Dewhurst double.  Like his brother he made an immediate impression with an outstanding filly in his first crop-namely Diminuendo (1985 Diesis ex Cacti by Tom Rolfe).  Other Oaks winners followed in Ramruma (1996 Diesis ex Princess of Man by Green God) and Love Divine (1997 Diesis ex La Sky by Law Society). However unlike his brother there was not the same sex bias amongst his offspring who ranged from sprinters such as Keen Hunter (1987 Diesis ex Love’s Reward by Nonoalco) to milers such as Docksider (1995 Diesis ex Pump by Forli) and superb 10 furlong performers in Halling (1991 Diesis ex Dance Machine by Green Dancer) and Elmaamul (1987 Diesis ex Modena by Roberto). His final stud statistics showed 82 black type winners from 1069 foals (8%) and his sire line is just barely hanging on through Muhtathir (a son of Elmaamul and sire of Doctor Dino) and Halling who  has a few sons at stud.

Really Disappointing Stallions Trained by Henry

1. Reference Point (1984 Mill Reef ex Home on the Range by Habitat)

An above average Derby winner who won a Futurity at two and seemed to have the pedigree to succeed at stud.  He was very disappointing and his early death was not lamented by many breeders.

2. Hello Gorgeous (1977 Mr Prospector ex Bonny Jet by Jet Jewel)

As a winner of a Dante and Futurity (aka Racing Post Trophy) and a son of the new American sensation Mr Prospector, Hello Gorgeous proved popular at Coolmore and big money was paid for many of his early offspring. He was a disaster and led to a distrust of sons of Mr Prospector in Europe that took a long time to fade.  His final stats show 10 black type winners from 510 foals (2%).

2. Old Vic (1986 Sadler’s Wells ex Cockade by Derring Do).

From the first crop of Sadler’s Wells, Old Vic was a brilliant winner of the Irish and French Derby’s. Retired to Dalham Hall he was very disappointing as a flat sire before proving to be an exceptional jumps stallion.

Mixed bag

Of Henry’s other Derby winners, Oath (1996 Fairy King ex Sheer Audacity by Troy) and Commander in Chief(1990 Dancing Brave ex Slightly Dangerous by Roberto) found themselves in Japan and failed to make much impact.  Slip Anchor (1982 Shirley Heights ex Sayonara by Birkhahn) did reasonably well, but as a stamina source was never fashionable enough to attract sufficient high quality mares.

National Hunt sires

Henry was associated with many great stayers such as Le Moss (1975 Le Levanstall ex Feemoss by Ballymoss),  Ardross (1976 Run the Gauntlet ex Le Melody by Levmoss) and Buckskin (1973 Yelapa ex Bete A Bon Dieu by Herbager) . He trained a lot of other horses who also made names as national hunt stallions such as Gunner B (1973 Royal Gunner ex Sweet Councillor by Privy Councillor), Moscow Society (Nijinsky ex Afifa by Dewan). In addition to the previously mentioned leading jumps sire Old Vic, he also trained the King George winner King’s Theatre (1991 Sadler’s Wells ex Regal Beauty by Princely Native) who became champion NH sire.


Henry’s standing as a great trainer is not in doubt and only Michael Stoute has stronger claims to be regarded as the outstanding British trainer of the modern era. A trainers job is to train horses for the racecourse and he has no influence on whether they succeed as stallions. It is of no relevance to Henry’s standing as a trainer that he was not associated with any horses who proved to be great stallions. It is just one of those statistical curiosities. His  success as a trainer of stayers inevitably meant that he was associated with horses who ended up earning their oats as national hunt stallions. Henry’s greatest project, Frankel is now embarking on his stud career and he has every prospect of success, so there could yet be a great stallion associated with the Cecil name.



Cavalryman Charges to Glory

Since the change in distance of the Prix de Jockey Club, the Grand Prix de Paris has assumed the mantle of the ‘real’ French Derby. Run on Bastille Day, this years Grand Prix de Paris was a weak affair and the winning performance of Cavalryman would have to be rated well below the Derby winning performances of Sea the Stars and Fame and Glory. The field comprised only 8 runners, half of them were trained by Aidan O’Brien and there were no previous Group 1 winners in the field.

 In the end it was a triumph for Sheikh Mohammed who owned the winner and third and their respective sires.  It also served as a reminder of the glory days of Godolphin.

The winner Cavalryman is by Halling (the name of a Nordic folk dance according to wikipedia) who was an early star for Godolphin. Cavalryman is a belated first Group one winer for Halling who incredibly had 12 Group 2 winners before finally breaking through at the top level. Interestingly in his previous run in the Prix Greffulhe he was defeated by the unbeaten Cutlass Bay who is another son of Halling and may also prove Group one class.

Hallings pedigree and race record:

Halling was a sound, top class individual. His sire Diesis was a champion two year old who won the Middle Park and Dewhurst. Diesis was a full brother to an ever better horse in Kris. At stud Diesis’ earned a reputation as fillies sire and sired three Oaks winners in Diminuendo, Ramruma and Love Divine. Apart from Halling his best colt was Elmaamul who although a generally disappointing sire is responsible for Muhtathir who has started very promisingly in his stud career.

Halling’s dam Dance Machine was a winner of the Sweet Solera Stakes at two. Despite his parents precocity, Halling was unraced at two and made his debut in July 1994 for John Gosden. However it wasn’t until his fourth race, a lowly Ripon handicap that he got off the mark. He never looked back and by October 1994 he was an impressive winner of the Cambridgeshire. This victory saw him leave John Gosden for Godolphin. He wintered in Dubai notching 3 modest victories at Nad Al Sheba before he was next seen in July’s Eclipse Stakes. He caused a modest surprise by making all and leaving the likes of Singspiel, Red Bishop, Muhtarram and Eltish in his wake.  He followed up a month later in the Juddmonte International where he was impressive in defeating Bahri.  That victory represented his eight consecutive victory.

He was then targeted at the Breeders Cup Classic where he met another horse in the midst of a long winning streak- Cigar. However he totally failed to run to form and was eased up in the straight.

He wintered in Dubai and was Goldolphins primary hope in the Dubai World Cup. However he once more failed to handle dirt or mighty Cigar.

Back in Europe and on turf, he won a very weak renewal of the Prix D’Ispahan run on very soft ground. He went on to record a second win in the Eclipse defeating Bijou D’Inde and Pentire under another front running ride. He then won his second Juddmonte International again making all. His swansong was the Champion Stakes, where in a vintage renewal he was defeated by Bosra Sham with Timarida in third. He finished his career as the winner of 12 of his 18 starts including 5 Group ones. He had proven himself a top class, courageous performer, who could make all or come from behind. Surprisingly he was never asked to race beyond ten furlongs but there were grounds for suggesting that it would have been within his compass.

Halling’s stud record:

Halling’s stud career has been marked by misfortune and mismanagement but he has still compiled a very respectable record. From 480 foals of racing age he has had 361 starters (75%), 240 winners (50%) and 38 (8%) black type winners. His offspring average winning distance is 10.4 furlongs which clearly indicates the stamina that he transmits. Unsurpisingly precococity is not his forte but he has consistently delivered top runners without ever managing a superstar. His first crop included a pair of Group 2 winners in Dandoun and Chancellor as well Foodbroker Fancy who won the Lupe and finished second in the Sun Chariot.

He has sired classic horses including The Geezer who was second in the St Leger to Scorpion and Something Exciting who was second to Eswarah in the Oaks. Norse Dancer finished third in the 2000 Guineas and fourth in the Derby along with a host of other Group 1 placings. Along with Coastal Path he is probably the best son of Halling to date and he is now at Wood Farm Stud in the UK for £2500.

There are a number of top stayers to his credit primarily Coastal Path, Franklins Gardens, Mkuzi and Bauer who came within a nose of winning last years Melbourne Cup.

Halling was sent to stand in the United Arab Emirates in 2004 and spent three seasons there as part of an experiment by Sheikh Mohammed. He is now back in the UK standing at £8000 but such a move cannot have helped his prospects. Halling seems to work with horses from all backgrounds and he is no doubt is opened up to a huge number of mares by only having a single strain of Northern Dancer and that in his fourth generation (fifth generation of any foal). For those who believe in nicks it is worth noting his success with Danzig mares as this has produced the Group 2 winning brothers Boscobel and Cutlass Bay as well as Group one placed Age of Reason.


Cavalryman’s dam Silversword was also trained by Andre Fabre for Sheikh Mohammed. She was talented and was placed second in the 12 furlong Group 3 Prix de Royaumont.  She was a daughter of recently deceased Highest Honor who like Halling won the Prix D’Ispahan. Silversword is already the dam of Finity (by Diesis) a three parts sister to Cavalryman who finished third in C L Weld stakes. Cavalryman’s granddam Silver Cobra is also the dam of Double Honour (a sister to Silversword) who finished second in a Goodwood Cup before embarking on a jumping career that saw him run in a Grand National. Silver Cobra is by the Roberto horse Silver Hawk who finished third in the Derby. Interestingly Halling has previously combined with Roberto to produce Mkuzi a multiple stakes winner for John Oxx. Cavalryman’s pedigree is an outcross for the first five generations. 


The Grand Prix de Paris was Cavalrymans’s first effort at 12 furlongs and he clearly improved for the step up in trip. He is still lightly raced and Andre Fabre has indicated that he may target him for the Prix de l’Arc. At the moment that may seem fanciful, but if he takes after Halling it would be unwise to rule out significant further improvement as he matures. Furthermore Fabre has an exceptional record in the Arc and on that basis he is a horse worth considering come Paris in October.


CAVALRYMAN (GB) 2006 c b

(USA) 1991
(GB) 1980
Up (GB) 1969
(USA) 1961
(GB) 1961
Sure (GB) 1971
(FR) 1962
Angels (GB) 1963
Machine (GB) 1982
Dancer (USA) 1972
(CAN) 1967
Valley (USA) 1967
A Lady (IRE) 1974
(USA) 1967
(IRE) 1969
(FR) 1993
Honor (FR) 1983
(FR) 1975
(GB) 1970
Of Ireland (GB) 1964
River (FR) 1978
(USA) 1969
(USA) 1970
Cobra (USA) 1986
Hawk (USA) 1979
(USA) 1969
Vitesse (USA) 1966
(USA) 1979
(SAF) 1964
(USA) 1972