The late Sir Henry Cecil, who died of cancer on June 11, 2013, at the age of 70, is best known as the trainer of Frankel, the highest rated horse in the history of Timeform and World Thoughbred Rankings, who retired, unbeaten in 14 races, in October, 2012. However, while Cecil, who was kinghted for services to horse racing in 2011, may have described Frankel as ‘the best horse I’ve ever seen’, he was arguably one of the greatest trainers in history.
Unfortunately his career was overshadowed by controversy but, in his heyday, between the late Seventies and early Nineties, Cecil was Champion Trainer ten times. Overall, he saddled 25 British Classic winners and was particularly adept with fillies, winning the Oaks eight times, including with Fillies’ Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp in 1985, and the 1,000 Guineas six times. He also won the Derby four times, including with British Horse of the Year, Reference Point, in 1987, the St. Leger four times and the 2,000 Guineas three times. Until June, 2018, when Poet’s Word, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Cecil also held the record for the most winners at Royal Ascot, having saddled 75 in his long, illustrious career.
The first British Classic to be screened on terrestrial television was the Derby at Epsom. Indeed, the 1931 renewal of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, staged on Wednesday, June 3, was the subject of the first television outside broadcast or, in other words, the first television programme broadcast live, on location, anywhere in the world. The Baird Television Company, under the auspices of John Logie Baird, the Scottish engineer who became known as ‘The Father of Television’, provided the pictures, which were transmitted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) via the medium-wave radio transmitter at Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire. BBC Radio had first broadcast the Derby, along with the Grand National, in 1927, but the BBC Television Service was not officially launched until November, 1936.
In any event, the ‘King’s Birthday Derby’, run on the sixty-sixth birthday of King George V, was won by the 7/2 favourite, Cameronian, owned by J. Arthur Dewar, trained by Fred Darling and ridden by Freddie Fox. Television viewers were treated to a thrilling finish, with the 2,000 Guineas winner edging out well-fancied rivals Orpern and Sandwich by three-quarters of a length and the same. The following year, still some years before the advent of public television broadcasts, the Derby was shown, live, on closed-circuit television at the now demolished Metropole Kinema, in Victoria Street, central London.
The Derby, or Derby Stakes, to give the race its full title, was famously co-founded by Edward Smith-Stanley, Twelfth Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, Senior Steward of the Jockey Club, in 1780. The Derby is, and always has been, a conditions stakes race, in which the weight carried by each horse is dictated not by its official rating, or handicap mark, but by the race conditions. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘handicapping’ did not exist until the mid-nineteenth century, it is still remarkable that, in 240 runnings, what has become the most prestigious race in Britain has produced three winners at 100/1.
The first of the triple-figure winners was Jeddah, trained by Richard Marsh and ridden by Herbert ‘Otto’ Madden, in 1898; his victory was apparently greeted with ‘solemn silence’. A decade later, Signorinetta, trained by Cavaliere Edoardo Ginistrelli and ridden by William Bullock, had the distinction of being just the fourth filly to win the Derby and, two days later, won the Oaks as well. Last, but by no means least, completing the unlikely trio came Aboyeur, trained by Tom Lewis and ridden by Edwin Piper, in 1913; in a race marred by fatal injuries to suffragette Emily Davison, Aboyeur, who originally finished second, in a blanket finish, was promoted to first place on the disqualification of 6/4 favourite Craganour.
In Britain, and the rest of Europe, a Group One race is a horse race of the highest calibre, as designated by the European Pattern Committee. Group One races include some of the most prestigious, valuable and historic races in Britain, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 4 furlongs, on Grade One racecourses, such as Ascot, Newmarket and York.
Some Group One races, such as the ‘Classic’ races – that is, the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger – are restricted to certain age groups and others, such as the Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes, are restricted to a specific gender. However, generally speaking, horses of the same age and gender compete at level weights in Group One races, with weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances for three-year-olds competing against older horses and fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings, respectively.
Of course, Group One races can occasionally be downgraded; to maintain Group One status, over a three-year period, the average official rating of the first four horses home in the race in question must be 115, or more. From 2018, in Group One races, other than two-year-old races, in Britain, a horse must have achieved an official rating of 80 to be allowed to run in the first place.