Paul Nicholls Profile
|Born||Apr 17, 1962|
Paul Nicholls has built a powerhouse racing operation in Somerset, and has become one of the leading National Hunt trainers of his generation.
A delve into the National Hunt history books will produce some of the classy Nicholls' horses, from See More Business to Master Minded, not to mention the superlative Kauto Star and his stablemate Denman. His longtime stable jockey was the all-time great Ruby Walsh.
Starting as a jockey himself, Nicholls moved to training and so far has picked up a Grand National, 12 King Georges and the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times. The Ditcheat trainer is never far away from the top of the betting in any race worth winning.
The early years
The son of a policeman, Nicholls found his own beat with horses thanks to a Christmas present of some riding lessons. He enjoyed the lessons so much, he persuaded his father to Brian to buy him a pony.
He graduated to riding in pony races in the New Forest and got the racing bug watching National Hunt on the TV with his granddad. The Nicholls family moved to Olveston near Bristol and Paul went to ride out for legendary local point to point trainer Dick Baimbridge at the age of 13.
Nicholls left school at 16 to work full-time for Baimbridge where he got stuck into riding in point-to-points. It was in a point-to-point race that Nicholls suffered a broken arm, the first of a series of injuries which hampered his riding career.
After the injury he moved on to ride for Kevin Bishop and Les Kinnard, turning professional by "default" in 1982 as the natural progression after gaining some victories. From there, Nicholls moved to work for Josh Gifford, for whom he rode Roman Bistro in the 1985 Grand National.
A further move to West Country trainer David Barons paid dividends as Nicholls partnered Broadheath and then Playschool to back to back Hennessy Gold Cup wins at Newbury in the mid 80's.
Nicholls described his broken leg suffered riding out in 1989 as a "lucky break", as, by the time he returned, he had put on weight and could no longer make the weight for a pro-jockey. He turned assistant to Barons and helped the team win the 1991 Grand National with Seagram.
Early trainer success
With his jockey career over, Nicholls turned his attention to training and stumbled across an advert in the Sporting Life for a 20 horse yard in Somerset for rent. It was here that Nicholls' fruitful relationship with landlord Paul Barber began as the fledgling trainer brought eight horses with him to Ditcheat in October 1991.
Nicholls quipped to Barber that he would be Champion Trainer but told racingpost.com that "I just wanted to have some good horses and be successful. I was always positive, ambitious and driven."
That drive saw Nicholls claim a first Grade 1 win just two years later with See More Indians in the Feltham novices' Chase at Kempton. The win in the colours of Paul Barber was recompense for his landlord letting Nicholls defer the first six months of his rent to help him on his way.
The 90's were a learning period for Nicholls, picking up some notable wins but most importantly building a relationship with renowned owners.
A link up with the successful businessman Sir Robert Ogden bore fruit with the high-class chaser See More Business, who won the aptly titled Rising Stars Novices' Chase at Chepstow under AP McCoy in November 1996.
By 1999, See More Business was at the tip of the Nicholls spear for an assault on the Cheltenham Festival in which the Ditcheat team won a remarkable hat-trick.
Nicholls took the Arkle with Flagship Uberalles, the Champion Chase with Call Equiname and then the biggest one of the lot, the Gold Cup with the special See More Business.
Solid gold success
As the Nicholls team hit the new millennium, the success began to ramp up with the backing of such top owners as the Stewart family.
Le Roi Miguel took the Martell Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree in April 2003 in the red and black Stewart silks as the Nicholls yard began to assert themselves on the valuable races.
Then in 2004, Azertytyuiop turned over hot favourite Moscow Flyer to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for yet another notable owner in John Hales.
The team followed up with wins in the Grand Annual with St Pirran, Earthmover in the Foxhunter Chase and Sporazene in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle as Nicholls began to take multiple races at the meeting.
Further notable victories came in the mid-2000's as Nicholls took the 2004 Welsh National with Silver Birch and the Daily Telegraph Festival Trophy Chase at Cheltenham with Thisthatandtother in March 2005. It all paled in comparison however with the great Kauto Star who was about to announce himself to the sporting world.
Kauto Star and Denman
There were whispers that Nicholls had something special on his hands with the French import Kauto Star even before the horse had won its first Tingle Creek at Sandown in December 2005.
But the wonder-chaser's superlative run from late 2006 to March 2007 cemented Nicholls as a trainer par excellence.
In under five months Kauto Star and Ruby Walsh had won the Old Roan Chase, the Betfair Chase, the Tingle Creek, the King George VI Chase, the Aon Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This set up a clash of the titans with stablemate and powerhouse Denman in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The race went ahead with a media frenzy on who would prevail out of the 10/11 favourite Kauto Star and the 9/4 challenger Denman. Eventually, the bullish Denman was rewarded for an aggressive ride with a seven length victory over the classy Kauto Star but the Nicholls stable had emerged as winners with the first three of the finishers as Neptune Collonges ran third behind the two main players.
Champion Trainer Nicholls
Ever since he started training, Nicholls had been in a battle to try and usurp top jumps trainer Martin Pipe. A feat he achieved just as the wily old trainer Pipe was retiring at the end of the 2005/6 season.
Nicholls maintained a strong grip over the Champion Trainer title after that, winning it 11 times in total and only challenged and pipped by Nicky Henderson on four occasions.
In 2009, Nicholls went to the Cheltenham Festival and returned with five winners via American Trilogy, Chapoturgeon, Master Minded, Big Buck's and the returning hero Kauto Star who took a second Gold Cup.
Spring 2012 proved to be a stellar period for Nicholls, winning not just the Champion Hurdle with Rock On Ruby but also a first Aintree Grand National with 33/1 shot Neptune Collonges.
The post 2010 period was characterised by Nicholls adding the names of further classy horses into the racing lexicon, training Silviniaco Conti to a King George and a Betfair Chase while Dodging Bullets also picked up a Tingle Creek and the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
In April 2019, Nicholls joined the select group of trainers who have trained more than 3000 winners as Kupatana prevailed at Cheltenham.
Paul Nicholls' ongoing success
Nicholls is in no mood to give up his domination of the jumps racing game if his number of winners in 2021 is anything to go buy. By mid April 2021 Nicholls had well over 150 winners, putting him on course for a 12th jumps trainers title as he chases down Pipe's record of 15.
He continues to have a strong arsenal of equine stars including Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Politologue, Betfair Bowl champion Clan Des Obeaux, King George winner Frodon and Cyrname who won the Betfair Ascot Chase.
Another French import, Monmiral won nicely at Aintree in 2021 for the partnership including John Hales and Sir Alex Ferguson, showing Nicholls still has access to leading owners as well as the top talent from across the channel.
Nicholls has been married three times. He tied the knot with Georgie Brown in Barbados in May 2011.
He has three daughters called Megan, Zara and Olivia. Megan is a jockey and won the Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race for her father aboard Knappers Hill at Aintree in 2021.
Away from racing, Nicholls is an avid Manchester United supporter and enjoys sea finishing on his rare days off.
Nicholls was awarded the OBE by the Queen in the 2020 New Year Honours List for services to the horse racing industry.