Alastair Down: the day Yorkshire embraced Sir Henry Cecil as one of its own
Looking back on an emotional victory on the Knavesmire for the legendary trainer
Published in the Racing Post on August 23, 2012
It lies in the power of the remarkable to transport us to extraordinary places, and on an indelible afternoon at York yesterday Frankel surged to fresh heights of imperiousness with a seven-length eclipse of his Juddmonte International rivals.
This was Frankel's first appearance north of Newmarket since September 2010 when he wasn't even a household name at Warren Place and sauntered home to win by 13 lengths at Doncaster on his second start as a two-year-old. The diamond still lay in the rough back then before the faultless hands of Sir Henry Cecil and his team had begun to cut and polish him to the perfection of his pre-eminence now.
Down south Frankel has put a handful of thousands on the gate at Newbury, but they do things differently in Yorkshire and for his last northern hurrah the public came to see him yesterday. And my god how they came.
From wold and dale and moor, from cities built on wool and steel, from market town and modern urban sprawl they made their way to the Knavesmire to see the equine phenomenon of our time and all our forefather's times.
Never outside of a high summer Saturday have I seen such a press of humanity on the Knavesmire with the official attendance up by a staggering 50 per cent on last year. And folk came from all over the north because there was a sight to see in Frankel. But what gave yesterday its strong, painful twinge of elegy was that many came also to see Cecil, an honorary Yorkshireman with deep roots up here.
Henry's father-in-law Noel Murless owned the Cliff Stud near Helmsley and his brother David ran it for years. The county is in Cecil's soul, which was why he was so determined to be here, not just because this was Frankel's first foray into unknown territory, or even because the Juddmonte is his owner's very own race, but because this week is the apogee of racing in Yorkshire and Henry would always want to play his part in that.
York has been one of Cecil's stamping grounds and if the foot does not hit the ground with all the ferocity of old all the fighting spirit is still evident. When his name was called to go up and receive his winner's trophy he was offered the walking stick that had been at his side throughout the afternoon.
For a second he hesitated, then smiled, shook his head and strode to the rostrum stickless and proud. And in that moment he needed no extra support other than that you could almost feel flowing out from the thousands crammed round the winner's enclosure to see a horse in a million and his trainer of whom it is fair to say that you don't get many to the pound.
The exact severity of Cecil's illness is his business and that of those closest to his heart. He looked frail, the decidedly dodgy mafioso's black hat was new, as was the stick. His voice was a whispering husk of the usual elegant tones, but his smile was as disarming as ever and his affection for the horse that has rendered our times so memorable as strong as ever. And as he fussed over him the three cheers for the pair of them rang round an emotional winner's enclosure where the twin forces of sadness and joy were both on hand.
But never underestimate Henry's toughness or his will. He confesses to being a ferocious competitor and there is more fight in him than a dozen commandos. He was lauded everywhere he went yesterday and if the crowd's feelings could have helped him he would have been borne aloft in a sedan chair powered by pure goodwill.
And what about Frankel? Well, he was mighty here, high and mighty and almost inexplicably brilliant like some new wonder of the world. Ridden almost like an ordinary horse for once, Tom Queally dropped him in safely out of any traffic and he travelled with an almost ludicrous ease off a serious mile-and-a-quarter pace.
And when Queally rang the telegraph to "all ahead full" he stormed away in a manner that provoked all the usual awe plus a little bit of embarrassment for the poor old leaden-foots toiling in the white water of his wake.
I am not sure I have seen him better and the wonder does not diminish with the passing of time or the racking up of seemingly endless wins. This is a familarity that will never know contempt. There were many on course yesterday who were seeing Frankel for the first time, witnessing the legend made flesh.
They now swell the ranks of folk whose racing lives have been powered by the pulse of Frankel. A happy generation that will recount its tales until the eyes of their grandchildren glaze over and they say for the umpteenth: "He can't have been that good!"
Ah, but he is.
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