It would be fair to say that Paul Nicholls has bought more than one new pair of trousers since weighing in, at 10st 5lb, on Broadheath in the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1986. However, Nicholls retired as a jockey three years later, due to weight problems and, ultimately, to a broken leg sustained when he was kicked by a horse during morning exercise and has since become the foremost National Hunt trainer of his generation.
Nicholls spent two years as assistant trainer to David Barons, to whom he had previously been stable jockey, before responding to an advertisement placed in the Sporting Life by Paul Barber, owner and landlord of Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, near Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Nicholls took out a training licence in his own right and became tenant of the former dairy farming facility, with a string of just eight horses, in November, 1991. After a modest start, he gradually increased his winning tally, year-by-year, but enjoyed his real ‘breakthrough’ season in 1998/99, when he saddled over 100 winners and won over £1 million in prize money for the first time.
Indeed, it was during the 1998/99 season that Nicholls saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, or winners, namely Flagship Uberalles in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and See More Business in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That high-profile treble was sufficient to win the leading trainer award for the first time and, although he would not saddle another Cheltenham Festival winner until 2003, he won the award again in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Fast forward a decade or so and Nicholls has saddled at least one winner at the Cheltenham Festival every year since 2003 and his career total of 45 winners makes him the third most successful trainer, behind only Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson, in the history of the famous March meeting. Highlights of his training including winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three more times, with Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009 and Denman in 2008 and, of course, winning the Stayers’ Hurdle four years running with Big Buck’s in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.