Paul Nicholls – first among equals

Paul Nicholls – first among equals
Dodging Bullets, the latest hero for Team Ditcheat

Dodging Bullets, the latest hero for Team Ditcheat

I’ve run out of superlatives for the training operation based at Manor House Stables in Ditcheat. Paul Nicholls is the team captain, but the operation is not called Team Ditcheat without reason.

I have spent time at Manor House and been giving the freedom of the stables by Nicholls. Simply to watch a day in the life of Ditcheat is always a fascinating experience. The most successful stables are just that because everyone knows their job, and they carry it out professionally. A statement of the bleeding obvious? Yes. Perhaps. Though you might be horrified to see how many stables operate in a slapdash manner.

But at Ditcheat all the dots are joined up in a seamless manner. It doesn’t happen by accident. Each day is planned like a military operation. Nicholls could not be Champion trainer as often as he is were it not for the fact that he trusts his support staff to keep him informed about the many horses stabled at Ditcheat.

I recall interviewing him on camera and his mobile telephone never stopped ringing. I insisted he took all the calls because I know that every second counts when it comes to how he prepares horses for competing. And he relies heavily on his office staff to sort out all the administration tasks he doesn’t have time for, and we fans of racing don’t see.

His head lad Clifford Baker is ultra professional and the stable lads and lassies are dedicated to the thoroughbreds they look after. Indeed, the young but experienced Donna Blake (pictured above, left) has rightly been nominated for a Dedication to Racing award at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards. In my experience, Donna deserves such recognition. Like her boss, she leads by example.

This season was meant to be one of transition for the Paul Nicholls operation. The opinion was that his stable stars had retired and it would take a season or two for the younger thoroughbreds to mature into horses that would compete at the highest level.

That theory has been blown out of the water. Paul Nicholls has already had a fabulous season, and it’s only January.

Paul Nicholls. Simply the best.

Paul Nicholls. Simply the best.

At Ascot on Saturday, his Dodging Bullets put Sprinter Sacre in his place. Just as Nicholls had predicted he might.

Some trainers are economical with the truth when talking about their chances of winning a race. Others don’t wish to tempt fate and say little or nothing.

Paul Nicholls calls it as he sees it. And, if something goes wrong, he publicly blames himself. Not his staff. The sign of a true leader.

For some years now the Champion trainer title has between Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. The two men are each skilled at their job, but are very different men. They respect each other, but don’t let them lead you to believe they don’t care who wins that title each year. They care very much.

The difference of late is that Nicholls is bold. He takes chances. He sends his horses out to race. He believes that is what they have been bred to do. Henderson, meanwhile, is more cautious. He has been accused of protecting his top horses in cotton wool. In some instances that has been an understandable accusation. His horses do seem to spend much less time racing than their opposite numbers at Ditcheat.

For me there is no doubt who is the top National Hunt trainer in the UK right now. Paul Nicholls truly is the best. He is the first among equals.

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