At Ditcheat, it was rather like reflecting on a football squad that has trained together, played together and aged together. Nicholls has seen Denman, Kauto Star and Master Minded all retired in the last year or so. Big Buck’s was injured since last December and isn’t likely to run at all in 2013. That’s enough firepower to put any team’s chances of success at serious risk, and so it has turned out.
Nicholls sent a message of congratulations to his friend on Sunday, and said that with only one win at Aintree, that of Zarkandar in the John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle, it was time to acknowledge that his title had gone. He did so with typical generosity of spirit, saying, “People say I must be gutted, but I’m not. It’s true I’m competitive but I feel I was privileged to win the title once, let alone seven times on the trot. I’ve been privileged to be in that situation, with the golden era of horses I had, and enjoyed every minute of it, but now it’s time to sit back and do a bit of rebuilding before going forward again.”
He said he would look forward to a beer and dinner with Henderson, for whom a third title must be a huge delight. He has had to wait over 25 years to pick up the title again, after success in the 1985/86 and 1986/87 seasons. There’s strong expectation that he’ll go on to win next year as well. William Hill has opened a market, with him as short as 1/6, and Nicholls at 7/2.
As for Nicholls, he hopes Big Buck’s will return fit and healthy, though with the progress made by Solwhit and At Fishers Cross in particular, he thinks that the long distance hurdle arena could become really competitive. He said, “We knew the golden era couldn’t last forever and it’s healthy for the sport that new horses have emerged to take him on as it keeps it interesting.”