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Cecil gets the knighthood he so deserved

By Nick Grant

It seemed like the day would never come, but now racing's shining knight really is Sir Henry Cecil.



The 68-year-old — who has received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to the sport — hails from a different social stratosphere to most inhabitants of betting shops.

But he is simply adored up and down the many high streets of the land, which says everything about the man.

His fightback from years in the doldrums on the back of setbacks in the racing world and beating stomach cancer is one of the great racing stories.

Light Shift winning the Oaks in 2007 was a watershed moment, returning to the top table arguably the greatest trainer Britain has ever produced.

The reception Cecil received left him visibly moved and lives long in the memory.

Frankel's incredible victory in this year's 2000 Guineas at Newmarket simply confirmed a return to the kind of good old days that even the great man's staunchest of supporters thought had gone forever a few years ago.

Resplendent in his Hermes ties, Gucci loafers and brightly-coloured socks, with his head characteristically to one side when fielding the attention of the media in post-race interviews, Henry Richard Amherst Cecil is unique.

A staggering 25 Classics, eight of them in the Oaks, are in his possession, with the first having come in 1975 courtesy of Bolkonski in the 2000 Guineas.

Add to that some 70-odd Royal Ascot triumphs, making him far and away the leading trainer at the mid-summer spectacular, and you get a sense of just what he has achieved since taking out his licence in 1969.

He has a unique charm missing elsewhere in the sport — which other top trainer tends to his roses in his garden with as much care he does his blue-blooded string?

And the best thing of all is that he is still genuinely surprised at the incredible affection he receives from racegoers.

The road back to the biggest stage has been a tough one — in 1995 he was dealt a blow when owner Sheikh Mohammed withdrew his horses from Cecil's stable.

But Frankel could be his best yet and Cecil has shown once and for all he can still deliver the goods, for as magnificent as Frankel is, the time and effort that has gone into ensuring he brings his brilliance to the track cannot be underestimated.

The joint-highest rated horse in the world, victory for Frankel in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday will now be celebrated with even more vigour.

And with a crop of talented juveniles and staunch older horses like Twice Over and Midday, the Cecil story has some way to go just yet.

The betting suggests that Frankel just has to turn up to win the St James's Palace Stakes, while Twice Over is raring to have a crack at So You Think in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes.

With unexposed types such as World Domination and Arizona Jewel also running next week, it would be no surprise were the great man to end the week as leading trainer.

“I'd like to have one or two winners at Ascot but it's very hard, you've got some of the best horses in the world competing there, it's not easy. It's a challenge but we'll see what we can do,” said Cecil.

“I still remember Greville Starkey winning the Queen Alexandra on Parthenon in 1970, my first winner, and I remember feeling as if I’d just won the Derby.

“I've always loved the Ascot Gold Cup. It's a lovely race to win.

“I was very lucky that I had Ardross and Le Moss who won a couple each.”

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