Farewell Sergeant Cecil: Star Stayer Dies at 25

Sunday brought the news that one of the most popular stayers of the 21st century had passed away. From humble beginnings, Sergeant Cecil became a force to be reckoned with in the leading stamina-sapping events of the season, performing way beyond the levels suggested by a mere £1,000 price tag to win ten times at the track and amass over £828,000 in prize money.

Looked after by owner Terry Cooper following his retirement in 2008, Sergeant Cecil was spoiled rotten until passing away due to the rigours of old age. Here we look back on the career of a horse who boasted guts by the bucketload and propelled trainer Rod Millman and rider Alan Munro into the limelight.

2001: A Slow Start

Making his debut as a two-year-old in 2001, Sergeant Cecil was a little slow in revealing the full extent of his ability. So slow that he managed no better than sixth in six starts for Seamus Mullins.

Whether it was the Devonshire air or a change in training regime, Sergeant Cecil began to show some signs of life upon switching to the yard of Rod Millman in 2002, midway through his three-year-old campaign. A first win was, however, some way off, with the improvement only extending to five runners-up finishes in his first six starts for Millman.

2003: A Breakthrough at Last

Sergeant Cecil’s first win came on his 14th career start when landing a Class 4 handicap at Sandown off a mark of 73. A second followed just two starts later – this time in a Class 3 event off a mark of 82. The horse named after the owner’s father, Sergeant Cecil Edward Cooper, was finally on the winning trail.

2005: Handicap Hero

Finishing inside the first three in five of six starts in 2004, he managed just one win that season, when producing a new career best to land a Class 3 event at Ascot off 86. And then came 2005…

Partnered with Alan Munro for the first time, Sergeant Cecil revelled in the ice-cool riding of his jockey, benefitting from a smooth travelling, hold-up style which enabled him to produce power-packed finishes to claim the Northumberland Plate, Ebor, and Cesarewitch. That latter success came off a mark of 104 – fully 41lb higher than his rating of 63 when initially joining the Millman operation. It proved a spectacular season, and good enough to see Sergeant Cecil crowned the Racehorse Owners Association Racehorse of the Year.

2006: Taking to the Group Race Stage

Handed a rating of 112 on the back of that Cesarewitch success, Group races were the only place to go for the rapidly improving star. Would he prove up to the task? Or had he now reached his ceiling?

Five defeats in as many starts suggested that the second scenario may be more likely. Sergeant Cecil had other ideas, however, exploding into life to claim the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup, the Group 2 Doncaster Cup, and the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on Arc day at Longchamp – a win Millman described as the “the pinnacle of my career”. Sergeant Cecil won only once more in 10 career starts – the 2006 edition of the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup – but by the time of his retirement, his place in the annals of racing history had long since been secured.