Nicholls takes pride in ‘phenomenal season’ as he lifts championship again

Paul Nicholls will not be resting on his laurels despite being crowned champion National Hunt trainer for a 12th time in what has been a record-breaking season.

The Ditcheat handler surpassed his previous best total of 171 winners in a year when Threeunderthrufive emerged victorious at Perth on Wednesday, despite the campaign not getting under way until July 1.

Nicholls has bagged over £2.3million in prize-money with an admirable 25 per cent strike-rate to boot, in what the trainer described as a “phenomenal” season.

He said: “You never get time to stop in this game – you’re always looking forward.

“It’s been a phenomenal season for us. It’s been a 10-month season, rather than 12 months, and we’ve won some good races. Everyone in racing did so well and worked so hard to keep it going safely.

Frodon's King George win was a highlight for Paul Nicholls
Frodon’s King George win was a highlight for Paul Nicholls (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“To win a 12th King George and the Tingle Creek again has been brilliant. We didn’t have a Cheltenham winner this year, but you can only win with what you’ve got – you’ve just got to do your best with what you’ve got in your team.

“It goes in cycles, and while the best horses are in Ireland right now, it will come back, but we need to be patient.

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“The next target I’ve got in my mind is to train 4,000 National Hunt winners in the UK. If we keep going at the rate we are we should be able to crack that 4,000 mark which no one has done before in jumping.”

Frodon’s King George VI Chase win was a particular highlight for Nicholls, with Bryony Frost doing the steering in what has been a landmark year for female riders, topped by Rachael Blackmore winning the Grand National.

Paul Nicholls with his assistant Harry Derham
Paul Nicholls with his assistant Harry Derham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nicholls said: “You enjoy all those Grade Ones, but Frodon winning the King George was special.

“To win a 12th King George was incredible for the team and Frodon has always been a bit of an underdog. I love the King George and it was a very good performance on the day.

“Bryony and Rachael and lots of other lady jockeys have done very well this year. They ride as well as the lads do and are very much part of the team now.

“I also have to mention Harry Cobden. He’s ridden over 100 winners for the yard and was right in the mix for being champion jockey (before injury). He’s a big part of the team and his progress this year is a big highlight for me.”

Bryony Frost is congratulated by Paul Nicholls
Bryony Frost is congratulated by Paul Nicholls (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nicholls’ nearest challenger in the championship, albeit nearly £500,000 behind, was Dan Skelton, who learnt his trade at Ditcheat before striking out on his own in the 2013/14 campaign.

The current champion expects Skelton to continue to pose a potent threat for the foreseeable future, and has no doubts the apprentice will one day top the master.

Nicholls said: “I call him ‘mini me’! He’s just like I was all those years ago.

“His next challenge will be trying to be champion trainer, which will be fun. I think we’re £500,000 in front of him this year, which is not an awfully big gap to close, but obviously we’re not going to lie down.

“I do think over the next few years he will be the biggest challenge to me being champion trainer. He’s got a big team and the enthusiasm is there and they’ve got the capacity to train a lot of horses with great facilities.

“If he is champion trainer, which he will be one day, I’ll be very proud of the fact that both he and his brother (champion jockey Harry Skelton) came through our academy, as it were.”

Dan Skelton (right) learned his trade with Paul Nicholls
Dan Skelton (right) learned his trade with Paul Nicholls (Barry Batchelor/PA)

There is a short break in the National Hunt action now, with the new season starting on May 1, and Nicholls is already champing at the bit for the autumn action.

He said: “I think we’re as strong as we’ve been for a long time and we’re building up a really good team.

“I can’t wait for October time to come along and start all over again.

“It’s like putting together a football team. You have those really top players and after a few seasons it all changes – no team wins the Premier League every single year.

“These things work in cycles and you can only compete with the players you’ve got, but you’re always trying to get those best players and I think at the moment we’ve got some really smart young players, as it were, and we’re looking forward to the future.”

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