Paul Nicholls | Under Starters Orders

Features | 2nd December 2021

The record-breaking Champion Trainer that's claimed almost every big Jumps race out there. Find out his full story...

Name: Paul Frank Nicholls

Born: 17 April 1962

Career highlight: Far too many to single out one victory but Kauto Star’s fifth King George V Chase win personified Nicholls’ skill.

Interesting fact: Nicholls protégé Dan Skelton worked at Manor Farm Stables for nine years. Now he is the biggest threat to his champion trainers’ title.

It’s nearly 30 years since Paul Nicholls trained the first of more than 3,300 winners. It was five days before Christmas Day in 1991 that Olveston, named after the Gloucestershire village where Nicholls grew up, won a novices’ handicap chase at Hereford to kickstart a career that has seen him win most of Britain’s biggest jumps races.

The Betfair Tingle Creek Chase holds some of his happiest memories. He has won Sandown’s prestigious pre‐Christmas prize 11 times with some of jump racing’s greatest chasers.

His attempt to complete a dozen wins in one of the season’s top two‐mile chases will come little more than two weeks before the 30th anniversary of his first winner.

Nicholls had previously ridden 133 winners in a seven‐year career as a jockey, which included victories on Playschool in what is now the Ladbrokes Trophy, the Welsh Grand National and the Irish Gold Cup.

Weight issues ended his time in the saddle. He never returned to race‐riding after suffering a broken leg when a horse kicked him in 1989.

Paul Nicholls as a jockey

Paul Nicholls, the son of a policeman, switched from David Barons’ stable jockey to assistant with the Devon‐based trainer. Two years later he set up on his own with eight horses at stables owned by dairy farmer Paul Barber in the small Somerset village of Ditcheat.

It was the start of an operation which was to become the most powerful in British National Hunt racing. It took Nicholls just two years to win his first Grade 1 prize when See More Indians won the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The race is, coincidentally, now named after Kauto Star, Nicholls’ most famous horse. Currently, the 12‐times Champion Trainer has won 133 Grade 1 races.

See More Business was responsible for three of those when twice winning the King George V Chase before giving Nicholls his first Cheltenham Gold Cup victory in 1999.

It was a memorable Cheltenham Festival for Nicholls. Wins for Flagship Uberalles in the Arkle Trophy and Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase announced his arrival in the big time. He has been the dominant force ever since.

See More Business on his way to winning the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 59‐year‐old has saddled some of the truly great jumps horses. From four‐times stayers’ hurdle hero Big Buck’s to breath‐taking dual Champion Chaser Master Minded and Grand National winner Neptune Collonges, his trophy cabinet is full to bursting.

Possibly his two best horses went head‐to‐head in four Gold Cups. Kauto Star ended his career as one of the best chasers from 2m to 3m2f.

After switching from France he won a record five King Georges, four Betfair Chases, two Tingle Creeks and became the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup when successful in 2007 and 2009.

It would’ve been three if it wasn’t for another Nicholls superstar. Denman led home stablemates Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges when winning his Gold Cup in 2008.

The two great chasers going toe‐to‐toe in the Cheltenham Festival’s top prize captured the public’s imagination with scarves produced as racing fans nailed their colours to, or rather wrapped them around, their necks.

The King George V Chase, Kempton’s annual Christmas cracker, has been dominated by Nicholls. He’s won it 12 times with ten of those victories coming in the last 15 years thanks to Kauto Star (five), Silviniaco Conti (two), Clan Des Obeaux (two) and, last year, Frodon.

That Boxing Day victory from ultra‐tough Frodon helped Nicholls win the trainers’ title for the 12th time when his season’s haul of 176 winners was a personal best. He needs just three more titles to match his former bitter rival Martin Pipe’s record 15 champion trainer honours.

Early last year, the recognition of Nicholls’ achievements went beyond the confines of the sport when he was awarded the OBE for services to horseracing in the 2020 New Year Honours. 

It was thoroughly deserved but Nicholls is not one to rest on his laurels. With his most exciting team of young horses for some years, the future is as bright as his past is impressive.

The 2021 Tingle Creek

Paul Nicholls has dominated the Tingle Creek. This weekend he will attempt to win the Sandown’s Grade 1 chase for the 12th time.

It would equal his record haul of a dozen King George V Chases and it shows how the champion trainer has dominated British jump racing – especially in chases – over the last 20 years or so.

Flagship Uberalles was his first Tingle Creek winner in 1999 and he was followed by Cenkos, Kauto Star (twice), Twist Magic (twice), Master Minded (twice), Dodging Bullets and Politologue (twice).

Paul Nicholls Tingle Creek winners

Incredibly, nine different jockeys have ridden Nicholls’ 11 winners of the 2m prize with only Ruby Walsh, with three victories, being successful more than once. This year the champion trainer has Hitman and Greaneteen in the field.

Hitman was a useful novice last season. He chased home Allmankind in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase over the same course and distance on Tingle Creek day 12 months ago and he kicked off this season with a promising second behind Eldorado Allen in the Haldon Gold Cup.

Stablemate Greaneteen was a disappointing fourth in that Exeter contest but he showed a liking for Sandown last season.

He was second to Politologue in the Tingle Creek Chase and he signed off by defeating top two‐mile chaser Altior in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase on the final day of the season.