Champion trainer Paul Nicholls talks about how an advert changed his life and managing 200 horses

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • The 13-time champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls has enjoyed a cracking start to the season from his base in Ditcheat, Somerset, with well over 60 winners and £1million in prize-money banked already, including big-race success with the likes of stable stars Frodon, Greaneteen and Bravemansgame.

    Speaking to H&H racing editor Jennifer Donald on episode 130 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, Paul credits a change in the horses’ feeding regime for some spectacular performances in recent weeks.

    “We did change the feed this season,” he says. “For some reason last year I was never really happy with the horses and even in the spring some of them were running really ordinarily. There’s just been a complete turnaround this autumn.”

    Martin Pipe holds the record as a 15-time champion trainer, but Paul is keen to match, if not beat, that target and, with over 3,500 winners to his name in a career spanning over 30 years, the next big milestone to aim for is the 4,000 winner mark.

    “They’d be nice milestones to achieve one day,” says Paul. “Everyone’s happy at Ditcheat, they’re all working hard and when the horses run well and look good, and we get the results we’re getting at the moment, it makes life a lot easier I can assure you!”

    Among the current crop of stable stars that will hopefully be in action again soon are Greaneteen, who will be heading to the Tingle Creek at Sandown Park next weekend (3 December), hoping to retain the crown he won last year, while Bravemansgame’s next target is the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

    There are also some very smart novice chasers in the ranks to keep an eye on, including Gelino Bello, Stage Star and McFabulous. So is Paul allowed to have favourites?

    “Everyone knows that when Kauto Star was in training, he was one of my favourites,” says Paul, who trains 150 horses split between two different yards, then has a further 50 youngsters across several pre-training yards and Will Biddick’s nursery for the three-year-olds.

    “You always like those good classy horses and one I’m particularly fond of now is Bravemansgame, because he’s quite a character and he’s obviously quite good. But you want to treat them all the same, they’re all good horses – you just want to make sure they’re happy and healthy and fit to perform to their best.”

    How did it all begin for 13-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls?

    Somewhat surprisingly for someone who has made equine history, trainer Paul Nicholls doesn’t come from a horsey background.

    “My father was in the police force, my grandfather was in the police force – there’s no connection with horses whatsoever,” says Paul. “But my dad bought me some riding lessons when I was about six and I got hooked.”

    He inherited a love of racing from his grandfather.

    “My grandad used to follow racing and was great friends with [trainer] Geoff Scudamore and used to visit him on his daily beat,” says Paul. “I just got hooked on racing after that.”

    Paul forged an early career in the saddle.

    “I would hardly describe it as great!” says Paul, who started off in point-to-pointing for trainer Dick Bainbridge. “I probably learnt as much from him as anybody. I realised if I wanted to train one day I needed to get involved in the sport, so I rode as an amateur for a bit then I rode a few winners as a professional, I was lucky enough to win the Hennessy Gold Cup [now the Coral Gold Cup, run this weekend, 26 November] at Newbury twice. So I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and rode three or four really nice horses.

    “But I was always really hooked on the training to be honest with you.”

    Trainer Paul Nicholls: ‘That was a real turning point for me’

    The catalyst for the switch to training came when Paul was kicked by a horse at home, resulting in a year off, after which the next step was to become assistant trainer to David and Jenny Barons.

    “We had a lot of fun with them and won the Grand National in 1991 with Seagram,” says Paul.

    But without any financial backing, Paul was struggling to make the break to set up on his own, until by chance he spotted a classified ad in the Racing Post that would change his life – and lead to one of the greatest eras in sporting history.

    “It said ‘28-box yard in Ditcheat, Somerset, for rent – successful applicant will have the support of the landlord’ and that was Paul Barber,” explains Paul Nicholls, who has now trained from this idyllic setting for more than 30 years. “As you could say, the rest is history.”

    After slowly building his training establishment from an original eight horses, but struggling to really make a name for himself, his first Cheltenham winner came in 1999, when he racked up a remarkable hat-trick with Flagship Uberalles, Call Equiname and See More Business, who won the Gold Cup.

    “As you can imagine, that was an amazing moment for us,” reflects Paul. “That was a real turning point for me – if it hadn’t been for those three horses, I probably wouldn’t be here now.”

    To hear jumps trainer Paul Nicholls talking more about his training regime and what it would mean to win another Gold Cup, tune in to episode 130 of The Horse & Hound Podcast – listen here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

    You may also enjoy…

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...