06/12/2013 3:00PM

Hollywood Park: For Cecil, famed uncle paved the way

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Ben Cecil said a trip to Newbury Racecourse with his famed uncle, Henry, shaped his career.

Ben Cecil was a young teenager when he accompanied his uncle, Henry, to Newbury Racecourse near London in the early 1980s. It turned out to be more than a day at the races. It was a life-changing outing.

“I was hooked,” Cecil recalled Wednesday.

At the time, Henry Cecil was the leading trainer in England, and his nephew knew what he wanted to do for a living.

“He was the whole reason I got into this game,” Ben Cecil said. “In those years, he had all those good horses – Slip Anchor, Oh So Sharp, Diminuendo, Reference Point.”

Henry Cecil died in England on Tuesday after battling cancer. Ben Cecil said he spent part of Tuesday reading Internet tributes to his uncle, who won 25 classic races in Britain.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Cecil said.

Cecil’s late father, David, was Henry’s twin brother. The resemblance between nephew and uncle is striking.

Ben Cecil has never trained in England. He left for California in the early 1990s and has trained a stable since 1996. In 2002, he trained Golden Apples, the Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top turf female.

In recent years, Cecil would see his uncle when he returned to England to attend sales or major races such as the Royal Ascot meeting, which will be held next week. Henry Cecil is the all-time winningest trainer at Royal Ascot, with 75 wins.

Through the years, Ben Cecil watched his uncle’s stable reach its peak, then decline in stature in the early 2000s, and then experience a remarkable revival in recent years with the career of the undefeated Frankel, who was retired last fall after 14 wins.

Ben Cecil, 44, saw his uncle last summer and again at Christmastime.

“At Christmas, he was going to Dubai for a month of going to the beach and shopping,” Cecil said in his stable office on the backstretch at Santa Anita. “He really enjoyed the shopping. I saw him last summer, and I thought in December there was a definite improvement. Last summer, he had chemotherapy.”

In recent months, Henry Cecil’s condition worsened.

Ben Cecil admitted that part of the reason he moved to the U.S. was his name. Being a Cecil and training in England would lead to massive expectations.

“I can’t say I will ever succeed like that,” he said. “That was one of the thoughts of coming to America.”

On Sunday at Hollywood Park, Cecil will start Shumoos in the $70,000 Desert Stormer Handicap for fillies and mares at six furlongs. A 4-year-old filly, Shumoos won her 2013 debut in an optional claimer at Santa Anita in January. She lost her next three starts, including a second to Teddy’s Promise in the Time to Leave Stakes at five furlongs on May 5.

“I’ve been a little disappointed with her last three races after the first race,” Cecil said. “Hopefully, she’ll move forward. She’ll have to.”

The competition in the Desert Stormer includes Teddy’s Promise, who won the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita in 2011, and Include Me Out, who won the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar last summer. Include Me Out and Teddy’s Promise are trained by Ron Ellis.

“It’s a pretty hot race,” Cecil said.

Vanity draws More Chocolate, Open Water

The 2013 graded stakes winners More Chocolate and Open Water are the leading contenders in Saturday’s $250,000 Vanity Handicap for fillies and mares.

The Grade 1 Vanity is run at 1 1/8 miles and has a projected field of six, including Byrama, Esentepe, Lady of Fifty, and Royal Tiger.

More Chocolate won the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita in January. Open Water won her first stakes when taking the Grade 2 Marjorie Everett Handicap at Hollywood Park last month.