He certainly had a buzz on Wednesday morning but we thought this was from putting the knife edge on his Ascot runners not an imminent knighthood. He had been up since 4 am. At 5-30 Frankel and the others were ready to box over to the racecourse side. Henry was pacing, “eyes intent” around the edge of things. No time to bend the knee.
But soon he will and when the Queen puts the sword on his shoulder, the acclamation will run not just through racing but much further afield. For long ago Henry Cecil became the unlikeliest of icons, the racing blue blood with the common touch, the self mocking dandy who interviewed the interviewer, the charmer with the steel beneath. For years he ruled the ranks and life seemed almost too good to last. Then it didn’t.
Henry’s personal and professional unravelling was terrible to behold. For a while the fates threw everything against him and it’s almost impossible to think that only six years ago the 100 winner tallies had been reduced to just 12 for the season. And even when Light Shift’s 2007 Oaks signalled a turning of the classic tide, Henry looked so cancer stricken that you couldn’t bet him making Christmas.
But the belief would not waver neither would the smile and that rather jokey wish to make people and horses smile with him. Winners began to flow, new champions came to Warren Place and the cheer that went up as he walked in to greet Frankel after the 2,000 Guineas was something unique in racing history. For while many people have climbed to the very top and an unhappy number have then plunged down to the very bottom. No one else has ever got as low as Henry Cecil and then scaled back up to the highest peak. The crowd had loved and lost. Now they had found again.
This spring I have had many treasured mornings stalking our newest knight in research of the biography to be written over the winter. What strikes you close up is a sense of gratitude for this borrowed time, a burning wish to make the yard successful but also one to welcome others in. All sorts of waifs and strays get invited up and shown round the garden and only last week I had a letter from a student telling of a Cecil invitation which he will take all the way to his dotage.
This year the Queen has already had a true “annus mirabilis”. When she gets that sword out to say “Arise Sir Henry” she can be sure that she is continuing that winning streak.