In the world of racehorse training, the majority of the most successful trainers hail from Ireland. Paul Nicholls is one of the people who prove the lie on that front, being a British trainer with a stables in Somerset. Unlike a lot of people in horse racing, there is no family history of working in the industry as far as Nicholls is concerned, being the son of a policeman and leaving school at 16 in order to work in a point-to-point yard close to where he lived. His decision to work in horse racing was an inspired one, with Nicholls winning virtually every major jump race that there is to win at least once during a successful career.
Born Paul Frank Nicholls on the 17th of April 1962, Nicholls was educated at the Alveston educational facility of Marlwood School. When he was 16 he decided to leave school in order to pursue a career in horse racing, working at a local point-to-point yard. In 1982 he became a conditional jockey under Josh Gifford, joining David Barons in 1985 and becoming his stable jockey a year later. He was a reasonably successful jockey, winning the Hennessy Gold Cup two years running, for example. Yet it is unquestionably as a trainer where Nicholls has excelled, taking his training licence in 1991 after retiring two years earlier with 133 wins to his name.
Before he took out his own training licence, Nicholls worked for two years as an assistant trainer to Barons, including assisting Seagram’s win in the Grand National. He enjoyed some minor successes, but it was the 1999 Cheltenham Festival that saw him catapulted into the big time. He won three of the most prestigious races in the sport in the same year, with all of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Gold Cup being won by horses he’d trained. From there, he became a popular trainer for owners to turn to and at the end of the 2005-2006 season was crowned Champion Trainer for the first time.
It is far to say that there are very few horse races that Paul Nicholls hasn’t been in the Winners’ Enclosure for at least once during a glittering career. He has enjoyed countless winners during the week of the Cheltenham Festival, for example, as well as winning other much-loved events in Great Britain, Ireland and France, to name but a few of the locations he’s seen success in. Here is a look at some of his biggest wins:
- Grand National
- King George VI Chase
- Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Queen Mother Champion Chase
- Champion Hurdle
- Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle
- Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
- Tingle Creek Chase
- Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle
- Irish Gold Cup
The success of Paul Nicholls over the years has meant that he has worked with some top-level horses, with the likes of Zarkandar, Silviniaco Conti and Denman all having passed through his yard at one point or another. His first Cheltenham Gold Cup win came courtesy of See More Business in 1999, with the trainer barely looking back from that point on. Here is a look at some of the other big name horses that have seen their careers hit incredible heights thanks to the work they did with Paul Nicholls at his yard:
The Grand National is known as the ‘World’s Greatest Steeplechase’ for a good reason, so it isn’t much of a surprise that a horse that wins it for a trainer will always be remembered fondly. In that sense, Neptune Collonges was always going to be on this list. Bred in France and trained in Great Britain, he enjoyed some decent wins in the years that preceded his National success. In 2007 and 2008, for example, he won the Punchestown Gold Cup. Yet there’s little argument that his Grand National win in 2012 is what sets him apart, with the race itself being memorable for the fact that it was one of the closest races for decades.
There are countless National Hunt trainers that will never win the Gold Cup, so if a horse happens to win the race twice then you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re going to be remembered for it. That is exactly what Kauto Star did for Paul Nicholls, being the bread in a sandwich that included Denman as the filling in a hat-trick of wins in the race for him between 2007 and 2009. Add in the fact that he also won the King George VI Chase five times and it is fair to say that Kauto Star was one of the most exceptional National Hunt horses of the modern era. A horse that Paul Nicholls will remember working with for the rest of his life.
Races like the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup will always be the ones that stand out, but there are countless other events in the world of National Hunt racing that trainers are extremely proud to win. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than in the success of Big Buck’s, who won the World Hurdle, Liverpool Hurdle and Long Distance Hurdle four times in the same four seasons. Those wins came in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, with the Long Walk Hurdle also won in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He was one of the greatest staying hurdlers in the history of the sport, with only the poor grammar of his name letting him down.