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Lord Risby: My memories of Henry Cecil


One of the great joys of being a Suffolk MP for eighteen years was to be able to represent Newmarket in the House of Commons.

However, it did not start at all well. The French and Irish had obtained a generous VAT derogation from the European Commission in respect of their horse racing and training industries, ahead of the introduction of Single European Market legislation. Bluntly, it looked as if much of our historic racing industry would depart these shores lock, stock and barrel. A vigorous campaign was fought, but mercifully it was in a subsequent Budget that Norman Lamont opened the way for racing to survive and prosper. It is to him that I, as the then local MP, and the racing industry, remain eternally grateful.

Because of the high profile campaign, I got to know well all the main players in racing in Newmarket. All except Henry Cecil. Early one morning, I was watching racehorses exercising on Warren Hill, above Newmarket. Leading a long line of horses, the biggest in the town, was the man himself. I introduced myself to him and he invited me back to his house. With boyish enthusiasm, he showed me the dressage ring he had built for his wife and his enormous and beautifully presented collection of miniature soldiers. But his overwhelming equine passion manifested itself when he showed me the sacks of different feed for his beloved horses, meticulously describing the quality and purpose of each, and exactly where the feed came from, here or abroad. It was like watching a Bond Street jeweller handling precious gems. In due course, I departed after a wonderfully entertaining and interesting morning, but completely convinced that Henry had not the faintest idea who I was .

His subsequent personal and professional decline was truly horrific. Everything possible went wrong for him, and he seemed to fade from the scene entirely. It was widely believed that he would never recover from these dreadful years, but backed loyally by his friends and supporters, he overcame this dark period and slowly began to re-emerge. His phoenix-like recovery was simply magnificent. With his string of British Classic winners, it was he who more latterly trained the incomparable Frankel.

During the last Parliament, I invited George Osborne, then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, to find out about the racing industry in Newmarket. He was introduced to racing’s luminaries that day, trainers and jockeys. I then spied Henry, and one of our hosts said to him ‘Henry, come and meet George Osborne’. A totally blank expression descended on his face, as he replied ‘Who is George Osborne?’ Our host said in turn ‘For goodness sake Henry, where have you been?’ Of course they met and chatted agreeably. I never told George this story at the time, which I regret, because of course he characteristically would have been greatly amused by it.

On the whole, racing folk are not much interested in politics, but instinctively support and cherish those who support them. To those of us who are immersed in politics, there is something rather engaging about somebody of such distinction who had no idea who their local MP was, or indeed the future Chancellor. He was one of the greatest trainers ever and a great adornment to our national life, and somebody who knew so fully the snakes and ladders of life itself.


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