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Champion trainer Henry Cecil dies at 70

Trainer Henry Cecil poses for a photograph with the winning horse Frankel after the Queen Anne Stakes during the first day of racing at Roya
Trainer Henry Cecil poses for a photograph with the winning horse Frankel after the Queen Anne Stakes during the first day of racing at Roya

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - English champion racehorse trainer Henry Cecil, who triumphed a record 75 times at Royal Ascot, died of cancer on Tuesday at the age of 70.

"It is with great sadness that Warren Place Stables confirms the passing of Sir Henry Cecil earlier this morning," said a statement on the Newmarket trainer's official website www.sirhenrycecil.com.

"Following communication with the British Horseracing Authority, a temporary license will be allocated to Lady Cecil," it added.

In his later years, the 10-times champion trainer looked after Frankel, the highest-rated racehorse in the world who was unbeaten in 14 starts before retirement last year with almost three million pounds ($4.66 million) in earnings from 14 victories.

The colt was named after American trainer Robert 'Bobby' Frankel, who also died of cancer in 2009, and revived Cecil's fortunes after a bleak period following his twin brother's death and a messy divorce.

Knighted in 2011 for his services to horse racing, Cecil was responsible for 25 British Classic winners and ranks among the greatest trainers of all time.

A minute's silence was held at the four race meetings in Britain on Tuesday with jockeys wearing black armbands as a mark of respect.

Newmarket racecourse remembered "a much-loved gentleman of our sport" while the British Queen's horse racing representative Johnny Weatherby issued a statement of condolence.

ELEGANT AND ELOQUENT

From an aristocratic background, Cecil first took out a training license in 1969 and celebrated his first British Classic win in 1975 with Bolkonski - ridden by Italian jockey Frankie Dettori's father Gianfranco - in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.

He trained four Derby winners - Slip Anchor, Reference Point, Commander in Chief and Oath - as well as six 1,000 Guineas and four St Leger winners.

Slip Anchor, owned by Lord Howard de Walden and ridden by American jockey Steve Cauthen, turned in one of the great performances to win at Epsom by seven lengths in 1985.

An elegant and eloquent presence, even though gaunt and with his voice reduced to a whisper by bouts of chemotherapy towards the end, Cecil spoke movingly last year of how Frankel had helped to sustain him in his fight against stomach cancer.

"I cannot believe in the history of horse racing that there has ever been a better racehorse," he said.

Never a gambling man himself, with a penchant for rose growing and collecting toy soldiers among his idiosyncrasies, Cecil was nonetheless much loved by those who did wager their money on his horses.

"He was loved by everyone. The punters loved him more than anybody...because they knew when they put their money on a Henry Cecil horse they were in with a great chance," five-times British champion jockey Willie Carson told the BBC.

"It didn't matter who rode the horse. It didn't matter where it was running. He would be putting a horse in that race because he thought it would win. And that was Henry. Just a genius of a horse race trainer."

Jenny Pitman, the first woman to train a Grand National winner, remembered Cecil as a man who loved his horses.

"You only had to see how he responded to them when they came back into the saddling enclosure at any of the big meetings. He always used to put his hand on them and stroked them but he looked at them with a manner of a chap who cared about his horses," she said.

"And they looked back at him and trusted him."

British Horseracing Authority (BHA) chief executive Paul Bittar paid tribute to Cecil, describing him as "one of the great characters and one of the great trainers in British racing for a long time, with an endless number of wonderful horses".

"It's tragically sad," Bittar added. "Having said that, what a wonderful way to be able to finish his career with the greatest race horse that any of us will ever get to see."

Cecil, whose father died before he was born during World War Two, was encouraged into training by his stepfather Cecil Boyd-Rochfort - a five-times champion trainer himself.

"I do everything by instinct really, not by the book. I like to think I've got a feeling for and understand my horses, that they tell me what to do really," he said in a 2011 interview with the Daily Telegraph.

"I like to think I have a sort of rapport where I don't just treat them as something to help me earn a living. It's a partnership." ($1 = 0.6441 British pounds)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, additional reporting by Keith Weir; editing by Clare Fallon)

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