Over the past seven seasons, Paul Nicholls has established himself as the number one racehorse trainer in the U.K, having captured the Trainer’s Championship year-after year, much to the disappointment of Nicky Henderson.
Like his great Lambourn rival, Nicholls has trained over 2000 winners, many at the very highest level, with household names such as Kauto Star and Denman emerging from his Ditcheat stables in Somerset. That pair, along with subsequent Grand National hero Neptune Collonges, gave the former jump jockey one of his proudest moments when finishing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup, but there have been lots and lots of highlights either side of that.
Nicholls first made his name in the saddle rather than out of it when forming a close alliance with trainer David Barons, the pair teaming up to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in successive years in the mid-80’s with Broadheath and Playschool, the latter also landing the 1987 Welsh National. However, a broken leg in 1989 brought the riding career of Nichols to an end after a total of 133 visits to the winner’s enclosure.
Nicholls remained with Barons as assistant trainer for two seasons before teaming up with the man with whom he was to forge a powerful alliance, west-country farmer Paul Barber. From small beginnings, with the odd decent winner here and there, everything suddenly clicked in 1999 when Nichols captured three races at the Cheltenham Festival, courtesy of Flagship Uberalles in the Arkle, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and the biggest success of the lot, the Paul Barber-owned See More Business.
However, there was an even greater force around at the time in the shape of Martin Pipe, and despite sending out winner-after-winner, Nicholls could not knock the great man off his throne, not until 2005 at least. Finally, Manor Farm Stables could call itself the best, and from then on, with Irish jockey Ruby Walsh in the saddle, a string of big-race victories has been racked up, with the likes of Azertyuiop and Master Minded on the roll of honour alongside those mentioned earlier.
He evened managed to get not one, but two monkeys off his back when finally landing the Champion Hurdle and Aintree Grand National in 2012 thanks to Rock On Ruby and Neptune Collonges, both of whom contributed to the stable total of 138. The winners will continue to flow, and who knows, the 2008/9 total of 155 may even be eclipsed.
Big things are expected of Sanctuaire during the 2012/13 season, while loyal owner John Hales, not content with Neptune Collonge’s Grand National victory, would like to add a Gold Cup to his cv, and is hoping that Nicholls can work his magic with Al Ferof.
One thing is certain, Paul Nicholls will place every horse with meticulous precision to ensure that he once again finishes top of the pile come the end of next season.