Feature image: @paulnichollsracing/Instagram
Paul Nicholls, a legendary trainer, has received his OBE from the Prince of Wales following a lengthy delay. Nicholls was treated to the honour at an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle on Wednesday.
The 12-time champion trainer was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2020 New Year Honours list for his contributions to the horse racing industry. But the ceremony was pushed back as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nicholls won the Hennessy Gold Cup – now known as the Ladbrokes Trophy – on two occasions as a jockey in 1986 and 1987 on Broadheath and Playschool respectively. He also won the Welsh National and Irish Hennessy.
A top rider back in his day, Paul’s career was ended by a badly broken leg in 1989. He became a trainer a few years later, getting licensed, and would get his first job after responding to an ad in the paper seeking a trainer for Paul Barber’s Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset.
He got off to a slow start and did not get his first Grade One until 1993 with See More Indians. It became clear Nicholls would become a top-tier trainer six years later. He won the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Call Equiname at the Cheltenham Festival and the Arkle with Flagship Uberalles. He also won the Gold Cup with See More Business.
Nicholls went on to train some of the best National Hunt runners such as Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded, and Big Bucks. He was the runner-up to Martin Pipe in the trainers’ championship for seven straight years before finally winning it in 2005/5. He has won it 11 times since.
“It’s been a very nice day. I obviously couldn’t have imagined when starting out all those years ago there would be a day like today,” Nicholls said on Wednesday. “It just goes to show that I’ve been supported by great family, great owners, a great team and some great horses and all of that puts it together. I feel very lucky and very privileged and I really enjoyed the day, it was good, it was a fantastic day.
“I felt very honoured to be there representing racing.”
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) November 10, 2021
Last month, Nicholls warned that the current racing season would be very tough for British trainers where Irish participants are concerned. The Irish handed out quite the walloping at last season’s Cheltenham Festival and Nicholls reckons this term could be just as tough. The Fanduel sportsbook will be keeping a close watch, “Of course Britain can close the gap but it won’t happen overnight. You only have to look at the ante-post betting on the big festival races to see that,” he said to Racing Post as part of an expert jury in The Big Jump Off.
“This season is going to be every bit as tough for Britain as was last season. You can’t win the Premier League without the best football team but it can take years to create that team. You can’t simply wave a magic wand and expect things to be different overnight.”
Broadcaster Nick Luck – also part of the jury alongside Richard Johnson, Katie Walsh, and Lizzie Kelly – was in agreement with Nicholls’ assessment.
“We’re not going to close the gap any time soon,” he offered. “If you look back to Shishkin’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2020, there were only four British stables represented, which tells me what happened last season was hardly against the run of play.
“Given everything went absolutely right for Ireland in 2021, it’s hard to think Britain won’t claw a few back numerically in 2022, but the imbalance is set to remain for a good few years.”
As mentioned earlier, the Brits were on the receiving end of a sound beating from Irish riders, getting scorched 23-5. An advisory group was put in place by the BHA in order to come up with changes that could see improvement in British jump racing while allowing trainers to be as competitive as possible in the biggest events. The creation of a British version of the Dublin Racing Festival was one of the suggestions brought up yet Nicholls doesn’t feel like it’s going to make much of a difference.
“Back when I was winning all those Gold Cups and World Hurdles, our horses always had plenty of great prep races that they ran in and won,” he remarked. “Creating new races won’t make Britain any more competitive and something like the Dublin Racing Festival isn’t going to make a massive difference.”
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