06/22/2010 12:00AM

Cecil puts racing on back burner


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The first stop in the morning is the one he covets the most.

At 4:45 a.m. Ben Cecil has the neonatal unit at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., largely to himself, a chance for the 41-year-old trainer to spend 30 quiet minutes with his 5-week-old son before heading to the racing stable to oversee morning training.

"It's just me and him and it's a nice time," he said. "It puts my mind at ease, too."

Through a typical day, Cecil, and his wife, Kristy, will make three more stops at the hospital. Ben goes again in the morning after training hours end, and he is likely to find his wife already there. They are both there in the afternoons and again after 8 p.m.

Hugo Cecil, the couple's second child, weights 2 pounds, 12 ounces. His weight has nearly doubled since he was born three months premature on May 16, at 1 pound, 8 ounces and in critical condition.

The last week, though, has been one of milestones. Hugo Cecil, not much bigger than two adult hands side-by-side, was weaned from a ventilator last week.

"He's breathing on his own," Cecil said. "My wife got to hold him for the first time [Saturday]."

So did the father. "It was a big Father's Day gift," Cecil said.

"He wasn't due until the 29th of August," Cecil said on Sunday after watching four of his horses work on Hollywood Park's turf course, two of which are probable starters in Saturday's Beverly Hills Handicap. "He's 5 weeks today. If this had been 20 years ago . . ."

His voice trailed off for a moment, lost in the unthinkable.

"The technology now is amazing what they can do," he said.

There were times in late May when all the technology of modern medicine and expertise of doctors were needed for mother and son. For nearly a week after Hugo was born, Kristy Cecil, an associate producer of the CBS television show "Big Bang Theory," remained hospitalized because of complications from the birth.

About the same time, there were early surgeries on Hugo Cecil's stomach and heart, and far too many anxious nights for Cecil and his wife to recall.

"He was on life support for a month," Cecil said. "He's still very small and has a lot of growing to do. It's a big step to be breathing on his own.

"It's been pretty much up and down. There have been a few mornings when I haven't felt up to being at work, but once you're there it takes your mind off of it. The days of surgery I took off, we didn't have many runners. All my owners have understood why I haven't been to the races."

Saturday, Cecil will be at Hollywood Park with two runners for the $100,000 Beverly Hills Handicap for older females over 1 1/4 miles on turf -- Lady Francesca and Restless Soul.

Lady Francesca was stakes-placed in France last year, but is winless in two races in California, both at one mile.

"She just needs further," Cecil said. "I kept running her too short."

Restless Soul, a stakes winner at Golden Gate Fields last year, was third in a field of four in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita in April, when she was close to the pace to early stretch.

"She doesn't want to be up that close," Cecil said. "She's better off the pace."

Cecil's stable has grown in the last year, now numbering 28. A native of England, Cecil hopes to expand it further with a few acquisitions from England, now that Royal Ascot is over and some owners could be willing to sell.

"I'm trying to buy some horses," he said. "I've got orders to buy."

Cecil is looking forward to running Andina in the $250,000 American Oaks on July 3. Later this summer, Ferneley, the winner of the Del Mar Mile last summer, will resume racing. Last fall, Ferneley, 6, was seventh in the Breeders' Cup Mile and fifth in the Hong Kong Mile.

Winning stakes with those horses is the professional goal. The family goals are more important, such as Hugo's recent improvement and watching year-old daughter Francesca learn to walk this spring. Since his birth, Kristy Cecil has chronicled Hugo's progress through a Facebook page for friends and family, writing in the infant's voice.

Tuesday morning's entry: "All quiet on the western front. Back to doing what I am doing best lately . . . sleeping. Zzzzz."

Hugo Cecil will remain in the hospital for considerable time, with progress measured in ounces. Ben Cecil will continue his routine, starting with the early morning trip to the hospital. No one will mind if he's a few minutes late to the stable.