Henry Cecil (right) at Newmarket.

Henry Cecil (right) at Newmarket.

Newmarket Racecourses

Classic Report: Oh, Henry

European trainer Henry Cecil enjoys testing members of the media.

If there is one main aspect of the Breeders’ Cup that is most fascinating it is the merging of American and British cultures, whether it be terminology, style of racing, or in the way horsemen deal with the media and vice versa.

In America, we have an eclectic group of trainers, each with their own personality and method of communicating with the press. The same for the most part can be said of the British horsemen, who are cloistered away in their own little domains and have far less dealings with those pesky blokes with the note pads and tape recorders. And then we come to Henry Cecil, who seems to enjoy testing those who hurl questions his way.


On a cool, crisp morning at Santa Anita Wednesday, Cecil stood on a ledge just beyond Clocker’s Corner and shared a few innocuous comments about his three Breeders’ Cup contenders, Twice Over, Midday, and Father Time, with a pair of British journalists to his left who had scaled the same ledge to get a few words of wisdom from the maestro, or at least a few words to fill their copy. Cecil was offering the usual fare of comments about his horses when off to his right, a foreigner with a twisted New York accent joined in the exchange with what was thought to be a good tension breaker, even if it was a lame attempt at making an amiable introduction.


“When was the last time you were at Santa Anita?”


Cecil, unaware of this intruder to his right, appeared surprised as he was forced to turn his head in the opposite direction to see from where this riveting question emanated.


“I’ve never been here before,” he replied with a quizzical look, his head tilted off to the side.


“What do you think?” said the Yank, believing his strategy to be a dumb, but hopefully effective ice breaker.


“Well, I’ve only been here about five minutes,” said Cecil, even though he had been in virtually the same spot for the past 30 minutes and had actually been confronted by this same reporter earlier while walking to Clocker’s Corner, offering a few tame comments about his horses and himself.


“What do you think in those five minutes you have been here?” said the dense American, with the two British reporters still guffawing at Cecil’s comment.


“It’s lovely isn’t it, really?” Cecil replied in his typical question/answer style. “It’s far better than Wolverhampton and Southwell.”


Cecil’s attempt at combining deadpan humor with the act of swatting away an annoying gnat, was greeted by yet another lame retort: “I’ve never been to Wolverhampton or Southwell” (although he had in fact been to Salisbury and Bath).


Cecil shot back: “I haven’t either. But I’ve heard all about it.”


He then actually shared a few comments about his horses, mainly Twice Over, before deciding the time had come to conclude the conversation. “Is that enough?” he asked. Realizing he had left the door a bit too wide open, he proceeded to answer his own question: “I think that’s enough.”


The intruder thanked Cecil for his time, jumped off the ledge, and went off in search of the first American trainer he could find.


Later that morning he joined in the mass assemblage gathered closely around Aidan O’Brien, who as usual offered direct, honest, informative, and witty comments, even after the crowd had departed and there were only two reporters remaining.


Ah, I miss Ireland.


But the truth is, Cecil, despite his textbook remarks about his horses, did offer some stimulation in a charming manner, and that is what makes the Breeders’ Cup such a special event.


As Cecil himself said as he walked to Clocker’s Corner with said reporter, “It’s a different world, isn’t it?” Of course, he was referring to Twice Over having been "very relaxed traveling to America and settling in well," but who cares?


One final comment from Cecil after it had been mentioned to him that a victory by any of his horses would be a popular one in England. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “It will be popular with me, anyway.”


You gotta love it.


In actual Classic news:


Although Rip Van Winkle was lathered up on his first trip to the track Wednesday, O’Brien said he actually was happy to see that.


“Yes, he did get warm, but I like that,” O’Brien said. “I like them to have a good sweat after traveling that long in a plane and being in quarantine. You like to see their system clear, and he’s one of those horses that doesn’t have any problem sweating. I’d be more worried if he wasn’t sweating.”


In the past, many of O’Brien’s horses have sweated badly on their first day to the track, but were much drier on subsequent days.


Zenyatta arrived at Santa Anita around noon Wednesday and was greeted by a chorus of whinnies from the other horses in John Shirreffs’ barn who apparently felt honored by the Queen’s presence.


When asked about the decision to run Zenyatta in the Classic, Aidan O’Brien quipped, “I think it’s a bad decision. I think she should be running against the mares. At least I wish she was running against the mares. But seriously, I think it’s great for the race.”


Friday overlays


Here are a few horses to consider when looking for potential overlays on Friday’s card.


Life is Sweet (Ladies Classic) – She’s on her favorite track; no Zenyatta; and she’ll get a much faster pace than what she’s had in her last two races. She ran a big race to finish third in the Hollywood Gold Cup. She’ll be flying late.


Sara Louise (Filly & Mare Sprint) Tough spot for 3-year-old filly against some top-class elders, but we really don’t know how good she really is. And she just may be good enough to spring an upset or at least be right there.


Biofuel (Juvenile Fillies) – Her victory in the Mazarine Stakes was visually stunning, and she’s two for three on a synthetic surface. Reade Baker is tough in big races. Watch her on the far turn.


La Nez (Juvenile Fillies Turf) – She’s an improving Cal-bred who finished a head behind Juvenile Fillies favorite Blind Luck in the Del Mar Debutante. Big question is how she’ll handle turf, but at 20-1, she might be worth the gamble.


Midday (Filly & Mare Turf) – She probably won’t be much of an overlay, but even at her 4-1 morning line odds she’s a good value. Tons of class and consistent.