Some extraordinarily powerful and poignant tributes have been penned in honour of Sir Henry Cecil since his death last week.
One in particular, by Chris McGrath of The Independent, deserves to sit in the echelons of racing journalism masterpieces. Anyone who can coin the phrase, “fey patrician flaneur”, in describing Cecil, has clearly signed a pact with the writing gods.
However, it is this week when the absence of the legendary trainer will be felt hardest of all. Because Royal Ascot was his playground, his backyard. Where he trained no fewer than 75 winners on the toughest, most competitive stage of all -- one of the most recent being, of course, the mighty FRANKEL.
Warren Place plans for this year’s meeting were put in place by Cecil before his death. And such is the strength in depth of his team of horses, it is not inconceivable that the yard, now carrying the name of his widow, Lady Jane, will end the week with a handful of winners. She has genuine chances with the likes of TIGER CLIFF (Tuesday), CHIGUN (Wednesday), RIPOSTE (Thursday), JOYEUSE (Friday), FIRST MOHICAN (Friday) and DISCLAIMER (Friday)
Such a fairytale would be matched only by a winner or two for The Queen herself, who will make her annual pilgrimage to the five days of the royal meeting without the Duke Of Edinburgh after his recent stay in hospital. She also has a handy cluster of horses to go to war with, most notably ESTIMATE in the Gold Cup on Thursday.
The focus on royalty and riches, fashions and frolics remains an undoubted attraction of the meeting, which is one of the social occasions of the summer calendar and one of the last bastions of Britain’s obsession with class. More than 50,000 bottles of champagne will be supped and more than 5,000 kilos of salmon will be served.
But peel away the veneer of top hats and tails, frocks and fascinators and you find five days of the highest-quality racing anywhere in the world. This year’s 30 races yield a record £5 miilion in prize money and will be watched by almost 300,000 spectators, not to mention hundreds of thousands more on Channel 4, racing’s new broadcaster who plan to show the whole meeting live.
Royal Ascot also boasts a truly international flavour these days, with horses from around the globe making the journey.
Last year, the main focus of attention was BLACK CAVIAR, Australia’s amazing sprinting mare. This year, the spotlight shines on ANIMAL KINGDOM, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup.
Animal Kingdom, trained by Cambridge-born Graham Motion, is the first winner of America’s premier race to come to Ascot since Omaha, the Triple Crown winner of 1936.
With supreme irony, Omaha was sent over here to be trained by Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, who subsequently became the stepfather of.......one Henry Cecil.