Champions Day at Ascot, 20 October 2012.
Many of racing’s characters are liked and respected, but everyone in racing loves Sir Henry Cecil. Today at Ascot the evidence for this statement is clear, and a sell-out crowd bears witness to this adulation on a national and international scale.
The vast sweep of the grandstand looms over a thin grey figure in a trilby hat. Bordered with ivy green foliage and dashes of tabasco red geraniums, the parade ring heaves with tip-toed crowds straining to catch a glimpse of racing’s finest. The grey figure looks down and away.
Sir Henry watches his runner in the 4.05 through hooded watery eyes, frailty matched by grace and dignity, his characteristic mill pool calm being tested as never before. With the race won there is no clichéd punch of the air, just a dab of the eyes with a silk handkerchief before turning to await his horse.
Frankel stalks into the parade ring. His 14th consecutive victory has sealed his place in history as the greatest of all time, retired unbeaten. His eyes and ears track the flickering crowd with satellite precision. Three cheers ring out for Sir Henry who bats away the chorus of compliments with natural modesty. It’s an involuntary reaction, like a horse flicking gnats with its tail.
Frankel’s physique exceeds the definition of animal – he’s a beautiful machine with conker bright skin stretched over bulging shoulders and rump. At the summit of achievable fitness and condition he demands our attention, and all eyes are drawn to him with magnetic addiction including those of the Queen. In diamond jubilee year, it’s easy to overlook her presence here today.
In an age of information download and instant access to data, Sir Henry’s comments are always measured and understated. Inevitably the microphone held patiently under his chin requires him to share his final thoughts on Frankel. With his throat ravaged by chemotherapy, his voice is a wisp of smoke against the blaze of the crowds which surround him. The volume fades in anticipation.
‘He is the best I’ve had and the best I’ve seen. I’d be amazed if there has ever been a better one. This has been the perfect day.’
Sir Henry narrows his eyes and looks across to the bay horse as he orbits the parade ring for the final time. His last thoughts are not shared – we can only speculate they include relief, disbelief, or a basic satisfaction that the job is safely done.
He watches wistfully as Frankel is led away, like a boy watching the Christmas decorations being taken down, knowing Christmas comes but once a year – Frankel comes but once.
Video: You Tube – SirRobottto’s channel