Henry Cecil back in fashion as Frankel takes real flair to Royal Ascot
Royal Ascot's top trainer to saddle world's best racehorse but also harbours ambitions of a sideline in luxury tailoring
Before Frankel returns to the track on Tuesday, as an unimprovable opening act for this week's Royal Ascot, it may please the colt's followers to know that talk of his mellowing has been overplayed. The smart thing to say about him, officially the best racehorse in the world, is that he has become a professional in his third season but his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, reports that a certain amount of rock star behaviour persists.
"He's always smashing his box up," says Cecil, whose career tally of 73 wins at the Royal meeting is a record, 10 more than anyone else with a licence. "He breaks mangers and things like that. He's very hot-blooded.
"You can think it's a cold evening and you put a light under-rug on him and you find at 10 o'clock at night that he's tried to pull the rug over his head, which is dangerous. He can get tangled up and break his neck or a leg. So you have to watch him."
Cecil himself is the picture of refinement, his lean frame folded languidly into a wooden chair in the garden of his Warren Place stable, but his composure must sometimes have been troubled by the additional concerns that Frankel has brought into his life. Security cameras are in place, not just so that the horse can be saved from himself but also as an aid in spotting fans who have somehow found their way on to the premises. "People are inclined to wander in and suddenly … who the hell?
"'We've come to have a look at Frankel.'
"Well, you can't look at Frankel. He wants to be left in peace."
Cecil has made a priority of teaching Frankel to settle in his races, so it was with chagrin that he watched the horse at last year's Royal meeting, when his jockey, Tom Queally, fired him up in mid-race, though only the pacemaker was ahead of him.
"I don't think I've ever been so annoyed in my life," the trainer recalls. "To me, it was an absolute disaster. I hate even thinking about it; I want to forget. The horse did very well to get through it."
Frankel passed his pacemaker around the home turn but had been used up prematurely and was drunk with fatigue in the final furlong, winning by less than a length instead of his usual four or five. Did the famously urbane Cecil direct any harsh words at his jockey?
"I explained that we'd have to do something different in future. The damage was done. It was not very funny.
"But it's almost forgotten and Tom has got to know the horse and is riding very well now. He rides beautifully, he's got his confidence in every way. It's just one of those things. We all make mistakes. I've made hundreds in my life."
Cecil is good at modesty but there is little evidence of actual self-doubt. He is clear about his plan for Frankel's final year – Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday, Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, Juddmonte at York, Champion Stakes at Ascot – and is not the least impressed by other suggestions.
"I've tried to do, all the way through, what's best for him. I've read everything, what I should do and what I shouldn't do, what I haven't done and what people would have me do: having settled him down, bring him back [in distance] and make him into a sprinter and this, that and the other. I don't take any notice of that."
Frankel aside, he has other classy animals to run this week – Thomas Chippendale and Noble Mission on Friday, Stipulate and Wrotham Heath on Thursday. In Wednesday's Windsor Forest, he will field Chachamaidee, who "accelerated like a Frankel" to win at Lingfield. But, though he will have at least one runner, he will miss Saturday's action in favour of giving away his step-daughter at her wedding.
At the age of 69, six years after his stomach cancer was discovered, Cecil appears happy and much healthier than in the most difficult months of his treatment. Chemotherapy continues "more for maintenance at the moment. I don't seem to ever get tired. I'm here. Another day's another day.
"You've always got to be careful and eat very carefully. But so far, touch wood, I'm all right. I'm not saying I'm cured.
"That really hard chemotherapy was difficult. I never had a day off and you could hardly walk. The next day, I'd have to drag myself on to the Heath.
"Now, you might feel a bit funny for two or three days. I don't think of my health. I think it's the worst thing you can do." He pulls a mock-fretful face, mouths an agonised: 'Am I all right?' "Just keep looking forward. Got to."
Can he foresee a time when he will want to give up the day job? "I think I will. I will. Not quite yet. I enjoy it, it's a way of life. I think maybe I would cut down a bit.
"I'd love to be able to have more time doing other things. I'm very interested in clothes. I've got a great friend who's a tailor in London and I'm thinking of starting my own clothes design.
"I like really well-cut clothes and cashmere jackets with floral linings and all those sort of things. I think lots of the clothes people buy nowadays are not very exciting. I've got a sports jacket, chocolate herringbone, which is half cashmere and half mink, so it's not something you're going to find in Woolworths.
"I'm like a shopaholic, really. I love shopping. A lot of men, they don't like shopping, they head to the shops the night before Christmas.
"I could shop all week from nine o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock at night in London – doesn't matter if it's for women's clothes or pictures or books, it doesn't matter what it is, I enjoy it, which is not actually normal for a man. I feel I might have female hormones."
He would retire, he says, if Frankel's owner, Khalid Abdullah, stopped sending him horses. That, however, is not likely to happen, since Abdullah kept faith with him even through the lean times of 2005, when Cecil had just a dozen winners.
"I enjoy training his type of horses. I was very late-maturing and backward. Stupid as a child and everything. First one from my prep school ever to fail Common Entrance to Eton. School had been going 90 years or so.
"I'd like to think I was late-maturing and I like those sort of horses. And his horses, a lot of them are just taking a bit of time but Christ they're worth waiting for, you know?
Chris Cook, The Guardian
17 June 2012