As the 2014-15 National Hunt season gathers pace, H&H visits eight-times champion trainer Paul Nicholls at his yard in Somerset.
With a packed yard of 120 horses — a far cry from the eight he started out with back in 1991 — Paul has plenty of ammunition for this year.
“It’s a 24-7 job,” says Paul. “When we set up the overflow yard [Highbridge] I only intended having four or five down there. Now we have 44 there and around 80 at the main yard.”
Although the superstars of seasons past — Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s and Master Minded — have all moved on to retirement and some into second careers, there is a wealth of newly-sourced talent at the Ditcheat yard.
The 52-year-old trainer compares the running of a racing yard to that of a football team, in that you’re only as good as the squad you have.
Now his main “players” have retired, it’s time to find new ones and bring them on — and he’s done this by visiting Ireland, France and Germany.
However, it’s not all new equine faces. The yard still houses King George winner Silvinico Conti and familiar names Al Ferof, Dodging Bullets, Rocky Creek, Rolling Aces and Saphir Du Rheu to name but a few.
Having won the title eight times, Paul says this year is not about “chasing a championship” but building up the new generation.
“We have the most youngsters in that we’ve ever had so it’s about starting from scratch and working to the future. It’s a really exciting time — a new challenge,” he tells H&H.
He’s also invested in a new oval schooling gallop (as seen in the video) to help prepare the horses, which was only put in last month. This, alongside a flat gallop and the formidable Ditcheat Hill gallop — rising 232ft — keeps the horses fit and helps with stamina.
“One of the most important things in bringing a business on — whatever that may be — is to keep investing in it where you can. This gallop is the best thing we’ve done in years.”
Things might have changed over time, but Paul says: “I love it as much as ever, just in a different way”.
Find out more about Paul’s plans for this season, plus his thoughts on Kauto Star and the glory days, in an exclusive interview in this week’s H&H (6 November) out now.