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Queen leads Royal Ascot tribute to Cecil

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    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (left) and the Duchess of Cornwall (right) arrive in a carriage for the first day of Royal Ascot, in Berkshire, west of London, on June 18, 2013. Queen Elizabeth II led tributes to Henry Cecil, the legendary trainer who died last week, before the start of racing at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.AFP

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    Racegoers crowd around the parade ring as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles arrive in a carriage during the first day of Royal Ascot, in Berkshire, west of London, on June 18, 2013. Queen Elizabeth II led tributes to Henry Cecil, the legendary trainer who died last week, before the start of racing at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.AFP

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    Racehorse trainer Henry Cecil (right) is congratulated by a passer-by after his horse, Frankel, won the Champion Stakes (Class 1), British Champions Middle Distance race at Ascot, England on October 20, 2012. Queen Elizabeth II led tributes to Henry Cecil, the legendary trainer who died last week, before the start of racing at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.AFP/File

Queen Elizabeth II led tributes to Henry Cecil, the legendary trainer who died last week, before the start of racing at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.

Cecil died after a long battle with cancer, and a part of Royal Ascot died with him. His 75 winners at the showpiece of British racing outnumbered the seconds within a beautifully-observed minute's silence called in his memory.

The first of those winners, Parthenon, came just days before the Queen's Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, would lose the 1970 general election. Cecil was about longevity as much as equine intuition.

There was an empty space in the Queen's carriage where Prince Philip, now convalescing after his release from hospital on Monday, would normally have sat.

And all around her, racegoers bowed their heads in acknowledgement of Cecil and his magnificent deeds.

Cecil and Royal Ascot were synonymous: His love of flamboyant clothes dovetailed perfectly with the pomp.

But beneath the extravagant hats and pageantry is horse racing's showcase race meeting, a profoundly competitive jousting ground for Europe's finest trainers.

None could match Cecil, either sartorially or professionally. Royal Ascot was his playground, his annual garden party.

That minute's silence marked the start of a week when Cecil's name will resonate around the racecourse.

The Queen's Vase on Friday, a race he won eight times, has been renamed the Queen's Vase in Memory of Sir Henry Cecil. Every jockey in the race will wear a black armband and Cecil's widow, Jane, will present the trophy alongside the Duchess of Wessex.

Jane Cecil has taken over training responsibilities from her late husband. She will saddle some fancied runners over the five days but Cecil's fingerprints are indelible.

He always drew up his Royal Ascot running plans weeks in advance; now his late wife will execute them on his behalf.

"Sir Henry was an intrinsic part of Royal Ascot," said Johnny Weatherby, Her Majesty's Representative at Ascot and Chairman of the racecourse.

"It is no secret that Royal Ascot was his favourite meeting of the year and we felt it was fitting to honour his achievements. We have remembered the passing of one of the greatest figures the world of sport has ever seen."

Even as the curtain rose on the five-day extravaganza, the feeling lingered that something was plainly missing.