Sergeant Cecil – Cult Hero

In the coming weeks we’ll be looking back at the careers of some of horse racing’s cult heroes. Sergeant Cecil is first on our list and he captured the imagination of the racing public in the summer of 2005. He completed the working man’s Triple Crown by winning the Northumberland Plate, Ebor and Cesarewitch handicaps. A stout, hardy stayer with a big white blaze that rose from humble beginnings, Rod Millman’s late maturing stable star progressed through the ranks at a rapid rate and ended up dining at the top table.

Sergeant Cecil Breeding & Pedigree

To say that Sergeant Cecil came from a humble background is an understatement. His dam, Jadidh, won a few minor races over hurdles for her owner Don Hazzard but was never rated higher than 116. However, she was a half sister to Listed and Royal Hunt Cup winner Refuse To Lose so she did have some potential as a broodmare.

Hazzard wasn’t sure which way to go in terms of a sire. Jadidh possessed plenty of stamina, so the decision was made to try and inject some speed into the mix. Hazzard ended sending his mare to the 1993 Steward’s Cup winner, King’s Signet. He managed to negotiate a small discount from the advertised £1,250 covering fee and that sealed the deal.

On May 2nd, 1999, Jadidh had her first foal. He was a flashy chestnut colt with a big white blaze on his face and a few months later, Hazzard sold the foal to Terry Cooper for £1,000. Best known for running an office furniture company, Cooper promised to pay a £400 bonus to Hazzard if his new acquisition managed to win two races. It took a while but, in the end, Hazzard got his few extra bob.

How did Sergeant Cecil get his name?

The original Sergeant Cecil Edward Cooper, Terry Cooper’s father, fought in both World War I and World War II. He unfortunately passed away when Terry was still a nipper of just nine years old.

When he died, the Cooper family couldn’t afford a headstone to commemorate his passing. That always weighed heavily on Terry’s mind, so he decided to name his new acquisition Sergeant Cecil in honour of his Dad. Little did he know that his father’s name would live on for eternity thanks to the exploits of a horse that he bought for a grand.

Sergeant Cecil – An Inglorious Start

The early days of Sergeant Cecil’s career did not give any clues as to what lay ahead. Cooper initially sent him into training with Seamus Mullins and on the 24th of September in 2001, Sergeant Cecil made his racecourse debut in a 2yo maiden over a mile on the old turf track at Kempton. He trailed in eighth of eleven runners, eleven lengths behind the winner.

The son of King’s Signet was back in action just a week later at Bath, upped in trip to 10f. This time he was again around 11L behind the winner but he finished seventh of fourteen and it was the first time he showed that he might be suited by longer distances. That was it for his 2yo campaign and he wasn’t seen on the track again for nearly six months.

Sergeant Cecil 2yo Results

RaceResultPrize Money
Kempton 2yo Maiden8th£0
Bath 2yo Maiden7th£0

Not Much Improvement At Three

Cooper decided to keep Sergeant Cecil in training with Seamus Mullins for his 3yo campaign. Unfortunately, he never really seemed to build on the early potential he showed at Bath on his first four runs of the season.

On his seasonal return he did stay on fairly well from the back to finish ninth on the all weather at Lingfield over 10f. However, he then stepped up to 12f and disappointed in another maiden at Salisbury and he also failed to impress on his handicap debut off a mark of 70 at the same track.

Seamus Mullins stepped him up to 14F on his next handicap start at Sandown but even with a reduced mark of 65 and Fran Ferris claiming 5lbs, he could only finish sixth of eight.

Sergeant Cecil had now run six times and had been in training for a year and a half. He had earned the sum total of £0 in prize money so far and that was not ideal, especially for a smaller owner like Cooper. He decided to pull the plug with Seamus Mullins and the horse was moved to Rod Millman in Devon. The rest, as they say, is history.

Improved Results

The change of scenery worked a treat. On his first run for Millman, Sergeant Cecil ran the best race of his life at Chepstow. He stayed on really well to finish second in a 10f handicap off 63 and Cooper collected his first bit of prize money, the princely sum of £1,156.

On his next outing for Millman, Sergeant Cecil finished third at Beverley over 12F and on his last three runs as a 3yo, he finished second over 14F at Salisbury, second over 11.5F at Bath and second over 12F at Windsor. Clearly, the penny had dropped and the horse was starting to enjoy his racing but he finished the season without a win and after eleven career starts, he remained a maiden.

3yo Best Results

RaceResultPrize Money
10F Chepstow Handicap (C5)2nd£1,156
12F Beverley Handicap (C5)3rd£806
14F Salisbury Handicap (C5)2nd£1,225
12F Bath Handicap (C4)2nd£1,488
12F Windsor Handicap (C4)2nd£1,548

A First Win at Four

Cooper and Rod Millman headed into the 2003 season confident that Sergeant Cecil was capable of winning races. On his seasonal return at Windsor (12F) he almost got the monkey off his back. He just failed to get up by a short head under Daryl Holland and the wait for that elusive victory went on.

Front running tactics were employed on his next run at Newmarket but he didn’t enjoy being ridden that way and he faded badly late on, finishing 20L behind the winner. It was arguably the worst run of his career and the high hopes that were held at the start of the season felt like a distant memory.

Hughes Magic

Millman decided to enlist the services of the brilliant Richard Hughes for Sergeant Cecil’s next run in a 14F handicap at Sandown. The decision paid dividends. Hughes settled his mount behind the leaders, squeezed through the narrowest of gaps a furlong from home and his partner ran on strongly to beat Reveillez by over a length. The maiden tag was finally shed.

That win came off a mark of 76 and two starts later over the same course and distance, Hughes made it 2/2 on Sergeant Cecil by winning another handicap off 82 and Cooper was forced to pay that £400 bonus to Don Hazzard. The 4yo was becoming a very decent horse and on his penultimate start of 2003, he ran a massive race in the Shergar Cup at Ascot to finish a close second under Kieren Fallon off a mark of 87.

His last run of the season at Haydock was disappointing but Sergeant Cecil had more than paid his way in 2003 and connections were looking forward to another successful campaign in 2004.

4yo Best Results

RaceResultPrize Money
Windsor Handicap (C4)2nd£1,765
Sandown Handicap (C4)1st£5,655
Sandown Handicap (C4)2nd£1,745
Sandown Handicap (C3)1st£9,977.50
Ascot Handicap (C2)2nd£7,000

Big Time Beckons At Five

At the age of five, Sergeant Cecil was simply getting better and better. He took a couple of runs to find top form in 2004 but a return to Ascot did the trick in July and he scored by a short head off a mark of 86 under Jimmy Fortune at odds of 16/1.

That saw his official rating rise to 89 and enabled Millman to target some big staying races. Sergeant Cecil would finish second on his next three starts in top quality 14F handicaps at Goodwood, Haydock and Doncaster and he finished up for the season with a great run to nick third in the Final Fling Stakes, a heritage handicap at Ascot, off a mark of 93.

He may have finished the season with just one win, but that string of placed efforts in high class handicaps offered hope that there could still be more to come from the late maturing son of King’s Signet.

5yo Best Results

RaceResultPrize Money
Goodwood Handicap (C4)3rd£1,062.50
Ascot Handicap (C3)1st£9,782.50
Goodwood Handicap (C2)2nd£11,000
Haydock Handicap (C2)2nd£16,000
Doncaster Handicap (C2)2nd£8,800
Ascot Handicap (C2)3rd£6,600

2005 – The Summer Of The Sarge

By the time of his 6yo campaign, Sergeant Cecil was starting to become more present in the racing public’s consciousness. In 2004 he rattled the crossbar in a string of top notch handicaps and surely, it was only a matter of time before he landed a big one. That day finally came on the 4th of June in 2005 at Newcastle and the ‘Summer of The Sarge’ officially began.

The Northumberland Plate, fittingly known as the Pitmen’s Derby, was the most valuable race Sergeant Cecil had ever run in. He came into the 16f contest on the back of two solid placed runs under Alan Munro at Newbury and Epsom and the resurgent Scottish jockey learnt plenty from those first two outings with his new partner.

Balls Of Steel

Munro rode the then 92 rated Sergeant Cecil, who was priced up at 14/1, with balls of steel at Newcastle. Dropped out near the rear early, he scraped the paint off the rail the whole way round and Munro waited patiently for the right moment to press the button. You could see that Sergeant Cecil was travelling sweetly as they turned for home, the question was whether the gaps would come at the right time.

Northumberland Plate Replay

Munro started to make his bid at the 3f pole and he stuck to the inner. He was making ground rapidly on the leaders, weaving through the field, but at the 2f pole, he hit traffic problems. He was stuck in a pocket waiting for room for a furlong and had nowhere to go.

Finally, a gap almost magically appeared with around a furlong remaining. Munro managed to squeeze Sergeant Cecil through it and he surged home to win quite comfortably in the end. It looked like he still had a bit in hand at the finish, and so it proved at York six weeks later.

Ebor Glory

After another fine placed effort at Epsom, Millman turned his focus to the Ebor handicap at York. This prestigious race was worth a cool £130k to the winner and Alan Munro was again tasked with the responsibility of getting Sergeant Cecil’s head home in front. He was running off a mark of 96 this time, so a career best would be required.

Ebor Replay

Munro used the exact same tactics as he did at Newcastle. He dropped his mount out and as they turned for home with half a mile to go, he was still nearer last than first. This time, he wasn’t travelling as sweetly as he was at Newcastle but The Sarge gamely responded to Munro’s urgings and by the time he hit the furlong pole, there was only going to be one winner. Another huge pot for Millman’s stable star and another immensely proud day for his owner Terry Cooper.

Working Man’s Triple Crown

Now rated 104, Millman hatched a plan to try and achieve something no horse had ever done before and that was win the Northumberland Plate, Ebor and Cesarewitch all in the same season. Before the big race at Newmarket, the decision was made to give Sergeant Cecil a prep run in an 18f Doncaster Group 2. It was the same trip as the Cesarewitch and he ran a blinder to finish a fine second, beat 0.75L by Millenary, a future national hunt sire.

Five weeks later on October 15, 2005, history was made. Running off 104, the highest mark of his career, Sergeant Cecil and Alan Munro went in search of immortality at Newmarket. Sent off at 10/1, Munro buried his mount in the middle of the pack in the early stages.

Lobbing Along

With five furlongs to go, the pace began to lift but you could see that Sergeant Cecil was still on the bridle, lobbing along in midfield surrounded by horses. One by one, his rivals’ jockeys started pushing and shoving their mounts along while Munro and Sergeant Cecil travelled sweetly, weaving their way through the field in now customary fashion.

Cesarewitch replay

As they hit the furlong pole, Philip Robinson made his move on King Revo and it looked to be a winning one. However, Munro pulled Sergeant Cecil out wide and, spurred on by a huge roar from the Newmarket crowd, the pair got to within two lengths of King Revo with half a furlong to go. By the time they hit the finish line, they were half a length ahead. History was made and an unprecedented staying handicap hat trick was landed.

Sergeant Cecil 6yo Results

RaceResultPrize Money
Epsom Handicap (C2)3rd£4,400
Northumberland Plate (C2)1st£104,400
Goodwood Handicap (C2)3rd£3,033.14
Ebor Handicap (C2)1st£130,000
Doncaster Cup (G2)2nd£22,000
Cesarewitch Handicap (C2)1st£75,000

Later Years

In his later years, Sergeant Cecil went on to have some brilliant days in pattern company. It took him a while to find his feet at the highest level but once he did, there was no stopping him. He finally broke his duck in a Group 2 at York at the seventh attempt under Frankie Dettori, beating Franklins Gardens by half a length in the Lonsdale Cup.

He followed up over the same C&D in the Doncaster Cup. The race was moved from Doncaster due to redevelopment works and Sergeant Cecil was again ridden by Frankie. The even money favourite beat Alcazar by a length and the decision was then made to head to Longchamp in France to have a crack at the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran.

Held up at the back, Frankie made his challenge at the perfect time and he steered the Sarge to his first win at the very highest level. The 7yo had reached the pinnacle of the sport but unfortunately, he would only win one more race.

Retirement Beckons

At the age of eight, Sergeant Cecil landed the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup on his second start of the season under Jimmy Fortune. However, age was beginning to catch up with The Sarge and he never managed to win or place again. On July 31st in 2008, the now 9yo Sergeant Cecil trailed in 32 lengths last behind Yeats at Goodwood. That was the last time he ever raced.

Passed Away

Terry Cooper took Sergeant Cecil home after his racing days and he enjoyed a long and happy retirement. In late June 2024 the news broke that Sergeant Cecil had passed away at the grand old age of 25 so clearly, he had been well looked after.

Hearing the news was an emotional moment for me. My own father’s name is Cecil and in that golden year of 2005, my late younger brother Dylan latched onto The Sarge before his win in the Northumberland Plate and backed him for all his subsequent wins. “Will the Sarge win today?” he always used to ask me and my reply was always, “of course he will, Dyl”.

I’ll be forever grateful to Sergeant Cecil for the joy he gave my brother that year and I am sure many thousands more racing fans have warm memories of that summer of 2005. There is no doubt about it, Sergeant Cecil was a true horse racing cult hero.

Sergeant Cecil FAQs

Who owned Sergeant Cecil?

Sergeant Cecil was owned by Terry Cooper. He was from Dorset and he ran an office furniture company. He bought the horse as a yearling from Don Hazzard for £1000, with another £400 to be paid after he won two races.

Who was Sergeant Cecil’s trainer?

Sergeant Cecil was trained initially by Seamus Mullins. He failed to win for him and was moved to Rod Millman at the age of three. He stayed with Millman for the rest of his career.  

What is Sergeant Cecil’s biggest win?

The biggest win of Sergeant Cecil’s career was the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran. However, he’ll be best remembered for completing a hat trick in the UK’s three biggest staying handicaps in 2005, the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, the Ebor at York and the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.