QIPCO British Champions Series has named two of horseracing’s greats to be formally inducted into the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame, the official Hall of Fame for British Flat racing, with a special induction ceremony due to take place on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot this Saturday.
Legendary jockey William ‘Willie’ Carson OBE, who turns 80 next month, becomes the fourth jockey to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, after Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Frankie Dettori. Meanwhile, the late Sir Henry Cecil, one of the most respected trainers that the sport has ever seen, is just the second trainer to be inducted after Vincent O’Brien. Cecil’s induction also comes 10 years after Frankel’s final racecourse appearance at QIPCO British Champions Day – the unbeaten Frankel being perhaps the most famous of Sir Henry’s training success stories.
Despite having no family link to racing, Willie Carson was crowned Champion Jockey in Britain five times and his 3,828 winners in the UK included 17 Classic triumphs, four of them in The Derby. Only three other greats have bettered his overall tally: Sir Gordon Richards (4870), Pat Eddery (4633) and Lester Piggott (4493).
The Scot’s inimitable all-action push-kick-push style of riding, coupled with his unbridled enthusiasm and fierce determination, made him a huge favourite with trainers, owners and punters alike, and he was associated with many wonderful champions, including Troy, Nashwan and Dayjur. He has enjoyed notable success as a breeder, and had the distinction of guiding Minster Son, who he himself bred, to victory in the 1988 St Leger, making him the first jockey to breed and ride a Classic winner, and also enjoyed a fruitful broadcasting career following his retirement from the saddle, hosting the BBC’s racing coverage following a stint as a captain on Question of Sport.
Speaking of his induction, Carson said: “It’s very humbling because of where I’ve come from, but here I am, an ex-Champion Jockey, having ridden British Classic winners for Her Majesty the Queen and with four Derby winners. I have done a few things in my life, but being awarded into the Hall of Fame is one of the biggest. It is a big deal to be invited.
“I am getting old but I am still enjoying life. I’ve got the horses to keep me amused, I have the stud (Minster House); it keeps me amused, busy and working. I am still enjoying life because of the horse – the horse keeps me going.”
Sir Henry Cecil was one of the most successful and much-loved trainers of the past century. He was charming, sensitive, playful and eccentric rolled into one, not to mention unfailingly modest and polite. He had a flamboyant dress sense, with his quirks and one-liners adding to his theatrical manner.
Henry also had no background in horses and, by his own admission, was not good at much at all as a youngster, other than having fun. He became assistant trainer to his stepfather, five-time Champion Trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, in late 1964 and, when he retired, four years later, took over what remained of his string.
The success of Wolver Hollow in the 1969 Eclipse provided an early clue that Cecil would succeed and, by 1976, he had been crowned champion for the first time, thanks in no small part to Wollow, who won the 2000 Guineas, Eclipse, Sussex Stakes and Juddmonte International. Cecil won the title again in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990 and 1993. Only Alec Taylor, who won the championship a dozen times between 1907 and 1925, has ever been champion on more occasions.
It was ten years ago this week (October 2022) that the late, great Cecil acclaimed his most celebrated masterpiece, Frankel, as possibly the greatest racehorse there has ever been, after the magnificent colt had signed off his flawless 14-race career with victory in the QIPCO Champion Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot.
“He’s the best I’ve ever had, the best I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if there’s ever been anything better.”
Eight months after Frankel’s final flourish, Cecil himself slipped away. His death, at the age of 70, just days before his beloved Royal Ascot, triggered an outpouring of adoration around the globe.
Lady Cecil, Sir Henry’s widow, who played a key role in the latter part of Sir Henry’s career, said: “He was modest and he would have been surprised to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but he would also have felt very honored. I’m delighted as I think he’s a very worthy inductee. I hope he will prove to be a popular choice.
“Henry never understood why or how he was popular. When he had a runner at Newmarket, the reception he got was always amazing. I remember after he died, I was lucky enough to have a winner at Newmarket. The crowd used to come and cheer, and I knew it was for Henry. He was so popular – when I do the Discover Newmarket tours to raise money for the East Anglian Children’s Hospice, they come to see Frankel but invariably they talk about Henry. They have so many stories about how Henry chatted to them, the kindness he showed. He was very special.”
Both Lady Cecil and Willie Carson will attend QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot this weekend, where they will be presented with a prestigious medal in recognition of the inductions into the Hall of Fame. Unique to British racing the medals, which were hand-crafted by Asprey, can also be viewed during the day as part of a special Hall of Fame display which will be held within the Grandstand at Ascot.