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.



Sadler’s Wells- a tribute

It’s almost a month since Sadler’s Wells died.  He was outstanding in every respect as racehorse, as a sire, as a broodmare sire and now as a sire of sires.  A book would be required to do proper justice to his impact (and I don’t have time for that) , so I will have to restrict myself to selecting a few of his more remarkable achievements, listed in no particular order

1. That first crop of colts.

In total his first crop  was numbered in the mid fifties of which just less than half were colts.  For six of them (In the Wings (ex High Hawk by Shirley Heights) , Old Vic (ex Cockade by Derring-Do), Prince of Dance(ex Sun Princess by English Prince) , Scenic ( ex Idyllic by Foolish Pleasure) , French Glory (ex Dunette by Hard to Beat) and Braashee ex Krakow by Malinowski) to win Group 1’s is extraordinary.  Batshoof (ex Steel Habit by Habitat) was also in that crop and he won the Tattersalls Rogers Gold Cup and Prince Of Wales Stakes which were both then Group 2’s but are now elevated to Group 1 status.  Dolpour (ex Dumka by Kashmir) won the Group 3 Gordon Richard Stakes and was only beaten a head in the Champion Stakes. In addition the unraced Accordion (ex Sound of Success by Successor)  subsequently found fame as a jumps sire. It was the most sensational first crop that could be imagined.

2. His Consistency

Its not easy becoming champion sire even with the benefit of large books of quality mares.  Sadler’s Wells was champion Anglo-Irish sire on 14 occasions- an all time record.  That Highflyer’s previous record had stood since the 18th century gives a sense of that achievement.  That he sired at least one Group 1 winner in each of his first 18 crops is also truly remarkable. His numbers currently stand at 2259 foals of racing age with 293 stakes winners (13%).

3. His Irish Derby Record

Sadler’s Wells has sired the winner of every Irish and English classic. His record in the Irish Derby is however particularly impressive. Six winners (Old Vic ex Cockade by Derring-Do), Salsabil (ex Flame of Tara by Artaius), Dream Well (ex Soul Dream by Alleged),  Montjeu (ex Floripedes by Top Ville),  Galileo (ex Urban Sea by Miswaki) and High Chapparal (ex Kasora by Darshaan) only tell part of the story. The 1999 edition saw him have a 1-2-3 courtesy of Montjeu, Daliapour (ex Dalara by Doyoun) and Tchaikovsky (ex Crystal Spray by Beldale Flutter) and this was bettered in 2002 when High Chapparal was followed home by Sholokhov (ex La Meilleure by Lord Gayle), Ballingarry (ex Flamenco Wave by Desert Wine) and Nysaean (ex Irish Arms by Irish River). His sons have kept up the good work with In the Wings siring the 1995 winner Winged Love (ex J’ai deux Amores by Top Ville), Galileo siring the 2007 winner Soldier of Fortune (ex Affianced by Erin’s Isle) and the 2010 winner Cape Blanco (ex Laurel Delight by Presidium) and Montjeu has 3 winners courtesy of Hurricane Run (ex Hold On by Surumu), Frozen Fire (ex Flamingo Sea by Woodman) and Fame and Glory (ex Gryada by Shirley Heights).

4. His record as sire of sires

This was once open to question- it is not any more.  Galileo has taken over his mantle as the dominant European sire and Montjeu remains the sire most likely to sire a 12 furlong Derby winner.  Barathea and In the Wings did respectably, Fort Wood produced some outstanding individuals in South Africa,  High Chapparal has done exceptionally well in the Antipodes and most surprisingly of all was the success of El Prado in the US- surprising given the abject failure of Sadler’s Wells own offspring when tried on dirt. In addition his sons such as Old Vic, Accordion, Oscar, King’s Theatre, Dr Massini and Kayf Tara have all had a major impact on the National Hunt world.

5. His National Hunt Record

Sadler’s Wells was an outstanding jumps sire.  Istabraq (ex Betty’s Secret by Secretariat) is of course one of the immortals but he was backed up by Theatreworld(ex Chamonis by Affirmed), Pridwell (ex Glowing with Pride by Ile de Bourbon), Synchronised (ex Mayasta by Bob Back) and many others that have seen him consistently feature in the top ten jumps sires.

6. His record as broodmare sire

Six times champion broodmare sire, to date he has 235 stakes winners in that capacity -more than any other sire in the history of the pattern.  Some of the multiple Group 1 winners produced by his daughters include Workforce (King’s Best ex Soviet Moon) , Conduit(Dalakhani ex Well Ahead), Music Note (AP Indy ex Note Musicale,  Henrythenavigator (Kingmambo ex Seqoyah). Youmzain (Sinndar ex Sadima),  Peeping Fawn (Danehill ex Maryinsky),  Divine Proportions (Kingmambo ex Myth to Reality), American Post (Bering ex Wells Fargo), Whipper (Miesque’s Son ex Myth to Reality), and Musical Chimes (In Excess ex Note Musicale).

7.  Leading the European renaissance

It’s easy to forget that at the time of his retirement, Europe was not the natural home for a top class stallion prospect. His contemporaries and paternal half brothers El Gran Senor and Secreto both went to stud in the States. The lure of the dollar and the yen meant that Europe had already lost or could no longer retain the best stallion prospects.  The best mares inevitably follow the best stallions leading to a further downward spiral. The success of Sadler’s Wells and his earnings put Coolmore in a very powerful position with regard to stallion acquisition and they utilised that advantage to the maximum.  His sons have continued that legacy- it is not unreasonable to claim that he can take credit for the current powerful state of the European stallion ranks.

Cheltenham 2009 by numbers

Cheltenham is almost overwhelming.  Four days, twenty four races, twelve Grade 1 races and remarkable individual achievements such as Ruby Walsh’s record breaking 7 winners or Tony McCoy’s astonishing never-say-die ride on Wichita Lineman.  21 stallions got on the roll of honour and only 3 stallions managed to sire more than one winner. So what did we learn from the week?


1. Stallion of the week was Presenting. He sired two Grade 1 winners in Weapons Amnesty who battled to win the Albert Bartlett hurdle and Dunguib who was an ultra impressive winner of the bumper. For good measure he sired Some Present who was runner up in the bumper and Denman showed he has retained most of his  ability with a fine second in the Gold Cup. Presenting is still only 17 and has bigger and better crops coming through and he will hopefully be around for a few years yet.  It is also interesting that Weapons Amnesty is out of an Old Vic mare and this is a cross or reverse cross we are likely to see tried a great deal over the coming years. Old Vic and Presenting are the two outstanding National Hunt stallions of our era and it will be interesting to see if this proves to be a potent nick.


2. Well done to Nikos who sired two winners in Master Minded and Oh Crick. Nikos was retired some years ago so his success will have little practical impact on breeders. Nikos won the Prix Edmond Blanc and was twice runner up in the Prix de la Foret. On the flat his best runner was Nononito who won a Prix du Cadran and over jumps he also left Cenkos who won a Victor Chandler Chase and finished third in a Queen Mother. Nikos was a son of Nonoalco the 1974 2000 Guineas winner who also won a Prix Jacques le Marois and at two he won the Prix Morny and Prix de la Salamandre. He was exported to Japan but left behind the great Katies. Trivia fans will be interested to note that Nonoalco was by Nearctic (sire of Northern Dancer) and was bred by Forest E Mars of chocolate bar fame.


3. Old Vic also got two winners in Ninetieth Minute (in the Coral Cup) and Andytown (Martin Pipe hurdle) as well as being broodmare sire of the previously mentioned Weapons Amnesty.


3. Sons of Sadler’s Wells are everywhere. Amazingly 7 different sons of the Coolmore legend sired winners. They were Kings Theatre sire of Wichita Lineman,  Oscar sire of Tricky Trickster,  Old Vic sire of Ninetieth Minute and Andytown, Barathea sire of Silk Affair, Kayf Tara sire of Kayf Aramis, Dolpour sire of Something Wells and Accordion sire of Character Building.  Interestingly none of the wins came in Grade 1 races, however Galileo came close to adding a Champion Hurdle to his role of honour through Celestial Halo who was a close second.  Funnily enough the hurdler who’s reputation was most enhanced after Cheltenham was Hurricane Fly (by Montjeu and subject of a previous article) who had previously hammered the Supreme Novice winner Go Native at Leopardstown.


 4. The diminutive Mill Reef pops up with surprising frequency. It is well recorded that Kauto Star is bred 4*4 to Mill Reef through Moulin and Port Etienne.  Mill Reef’s son Garde Royale is sire of Garde Champetre winner of the cross country chase and is broodmare sire of Master Minded.  Garde Royale is also sire of Robin des Champs the sire of Quevega the easy winner of the David Nicholson hurdle for mares. Finally the Triumph hurdle winner Zaynar is by Daylami who is by Doyoun who is by Mill Reef. 


5. Two sons of Top Ville sired winners. Beneficial sired Cooldine the impressive winner of the RSA chase and Pistolet Bleu sired Cappa Bleu the winner of the Foxhunters.


6.  Nijinsky obviously didn’t want to be upstaged by Mill Reef and crops up with some regularity.  His son Moscow Society sired his second Arkle winner in Forpaddytheplasterer who followed in the hoofprints of Moscow Society.  Champion Hurdle winner Punjabi was out of a Hernando mare and thus has Nijinsky in the fourth generation and he also appears in the fourth generation of Mikael D’Haguenet. World Hurdle winner Big Bucks is by Cadoudal a grandson of Nijinsky through Green Dancer and Triumph hurdle winner Zaynar is out of French Oaks winner Zainta a daughter of Kahyasi who is by Nijinsky’s son Ile de Bourbon.


7. The other sires to get on the scoresheet are Double Eclipse who gave his career a nice fillip as sire of Supreme Novice winner Go Native.  Komaite sired Punjabi the winner of the Champion Hurdle, Lavirco sired Mikael D’Haguenet and it will be interesting to see if we are about to witness German breds make an impact on the National Hunt scene in the same way that Monsun has led their assault on the flat. Turgeon sired Chapoturgeon and Sendawar sired American Trilogy. Finally Flemensfirth sired Ryanair chase winner Imperial Commander.  Considering he stood for €10000 and is hyped by Coolmore as one of the hottest jumps sires around it was important he sired a winner. However it is interesting that he is the same age as Presenting and to me he still has a long way to go to match the achievements of his Rathbarry rival.

The King is retired,long live the King….

My first blog entry has to be about Sadler’s Wells.  I regard him as an old friend. I started following horse racing in 1987, and Sadler’s first 2 year olds arrived on the track in 1988. We got off to a good start when I backed Kyra who was his first winner in Ireland (and the first for Classic Thoroughbreds Plc). He indirectly thought me some valuable lessons. I remember a dispute that I had with the cashier after Prince of Dance had dead-heated with Scenic.  I argued that I was entitled to half the odds and he said I was entitled to half my stake at full odds and that it made no difference. I won the argument but still only got settled for half my stake:)
I remember the early Coolmore ads hyping him up and talking about how he fulfilled the five requirements of ‘Hancocks Law’. With 6 Group 1 winners in his first crop he never needed the services of the hype machine again.

I thought I knew everything about him and he proved me wrong on every point. I ‘knew’ there was a curse on him and he would never sire an Epsom Derby winner after all those placed horses. Then along came Galileo followed by High Chapparal. He would never have a proper sire son (El Prado or Fort Wood didn’t count as they were out foreign and In the Wings was as close as he came). Then along came Galileo and Montjeu.

Eventually there was only one truth, that he would never sire a sprinter. Last year Liscanna won the Ballyogan Stakes over 6 furlongs at Leopardstown. It’s a good thing I wasn’t laying on betfair that day.

 My selection of highlights from his career are as follows:

Irish Derby 2002 1,2,3,4 with High Chaparral, Sholokov, Ballingarry, Nysaean

Irish Derby 1999 1,2,3 with Montjeu, Daliapour and Tchaikovsky

Oaks 2001 1,2,3 with Imagine, Flight of Fancy and Relish the Thought

Champion hurdles 1998,1999 1,2 Istabraq and Theatreworld.

His consistency and longevity are the makings of his legend. The 14 sires championships, the hundreds of Group winners and now his record as broodmare sire make him a phenomenon.

I’ll finish by assessing him as a sire of sires

Genuine Superstars: Montjeu, Galileo

Foreign superstar: Fort Wood

Gobsmacked that he succeeded: El Prado

Top Class: In the Wings

Respectable and a bit unlucky: Barathea

Great Dual Purpose Sires: King’s Theatre, Poliglote

Great Jumps Sires: Old Vic, Accordion

Good Jumps Sires: Oscar, Kayf Tara

Disappointing Jumps Sire: Saddler’s Hall

Just needed to move 20k miles to succeed: Scenic

Flops: King of Kings, Entrepreneur

Too early to write off but….: High Chaparral, Beat Hollow

Abject Failures who ultimately Triumphed: Old Vic