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About: Paul Nicholls Racing

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We did it our way and are proud of the results

And now the end is near . . . well actually Frank the end is in fact here. Yet another season is completed and the tally now reads at zero and square one is where we all find ourselves.

The quite ridiculous fact that it all starts again this week is not something I’m going to delve into for my final blog for the year, as you all breathe a collective sigh of relief. No, instead I am going to look back and reflect on the season that has just passed, a season of firsts for me and more certainly all the more remarkable for my ten-times champion trainer boss.

Season’s champions a trio to respect

Before I dive into reflecting on the year just gone by, I want to congratulate this year’s champions and what worthy champions they are. Richard Johnson, our champion jockey, is a man who any professional sportsmen could learn from. His humility, determination and skill at his craft make him an absolute pleasure to watch on a daily basis and when lucky enough to say hello to him you’d be a fool not to realise what a thoroughly decent human being he is. Richard is a role model and champion in and out of the saddle.

Closer to home, all of us in Ditcheat were incredibly proud of the champion conditional jockey Harry Cobden who is a young man who looks set for the very top of our sport. He streaked away with his title this year and I have no doubt that better things will follow for him. He is an old head on oh so young shoulders and I was chuffed to bits for him watching him collect his trophy.

And then of course there was the trainer’s championship, the title all at Manor Farm Stables strived so hard for, but eventually proved just slightly beyond our reach. I think on this matter I have two points to make and I will start with the most important one and that is to congratulate and give full credit to Mr Henderson and his team at Seven Barrows.

They have enjoyed an amazing year and are fully deserving of the title they have collected, so well done to all involved, the grace with which Mr Henderson accepted his trophy was admirable and demonstrated this was a title race once again fought in the best of sprits.

Talk of any failure a laughable concept

Paul led his team by example on Saturday when acting with grace and dignity in defeat and only confirmed my respect for my leader who is a champion in defeat as well as victory. My second point to make on the trainers’ championship and, forgive me as it is just a personal note, is that recently I have heard a thought process at the races and in racing circles that has suggested Paul has failed this season, a statement that not only baffles the mind but slightly riles it.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though chequered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in that gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

The 26th president of the United States first said those wise words and they are as relevant now as they must have been back then. Of course Paul and his whole team, including me, set out to be champions, and while we didn’t win we absolutely did not fail, in fact we won a record-breaking 171 times.

The only way we might have failed is if we hadn’t given everything everyday of the season and tried our very best, a reality that if you know Paul in any capacity just wasn’t going to happen. Paul and his team gave it everything we had and came up slightly short, but failure is not something any of us feel right now.

As I drove Paul back on Saturday night accompanied by Mum and Dad we relived some of our best days of the season, and very quickly all were smiling looking back at some fantastic memories so, as this is my final blog of the season, I thought I’d share my finest three with you.

Trio of achievements provide memories to saviour

Day one of the three came back in October when my best friend Stan Sheppard won in battling fashion on Brahms De Clermont on his first ride for Paul at Cheltenham. I am fortunate enough to be part of a quartet of friends that I cherish very closely and while Stan was winning on Brahms, the other three of us were going bonkers up the run in as he eventually got on top of a great battle up the hill.

It was a magic day and the catalyst that started a breakthrough season for Stan culminating in 29 winners. A lot of people were very proud of Stan that day but none more so than his best mates screaming on the rail.

Memory or day two that lit up my season was the win of Modus in the Lanzarotte Hurdle on a muddy January day at Kempton. He’d come close without smoking the cigar through the autumn, finding a couple too good for him in the toughest of handicaps, but Kempton was his day, with Barry guiding him through the race he cruised round and showed how good he was.

At home, Modus is the most wonderful character. Once nervous and shy, now soft and interested in everything you do around him, he is a horse we are all looking forward to jumping fences come the autumn, but whatever he does in the future, Kempton was a day I won’t forget for a long time.

Last but no means least of my finest memories this season and this was without any doubt as good as it got for me, was a three-timer we enjoyed at Ascot in December. We have been lucky enough to be part of a lot of trebles this season, but for me this one was unique as it demonstrated all that Paul stands for; gorgeous young horses putting in excellent displays of jumping and galloping.

Topofthegame, Capitaine and Politilogue were the winners that day and between them they only made one mistake with Topofthegame climbing the last through his inexperience, Sam rode like a man possessed all day and it was one of magic days where everything went right, perhaps what is even better about that day is all three of those horses will have many big days ahead of them and hopefully give us a lot more great memories.

So there they are then, my three most special days of last term, a season I am so proud to of been a part of. On a personal level I have not only learnt more than I thought I could fit into my brain, but I have loved every second of calling one of the finest jumps trainers in the world my boss. Everyday I’m so grateful for being part of his brilliant team. Through the summer there is plenty of work to be done, but also some time off to relax and take stock of all that has happened. Most excitingly there is some time for holidays with Kate, a couple of weeks I’m really looking forward to.

I am so optimistic about the future of Paul’s yard with some great talent in equine quarters as well as human and with our new sponsor, Morson Group, we couldn’t have any better supporters so all round the future looks bright.

All that is really left for me to do then is to thank you, my blog readers, something I will never tire of is someone I have never met before introducing themselves to me at the races and saying they love my blog.

This is a wonderful sport and you the National Hunt supporters make it all the more special, until the autumn then . . .

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Back on level terms

A record total of winners in the season that ended on Saturday was still not quite enough to retain my trainers’ title.

Hats off to Nicky Henderson who thoroughly deserves his fourth championship after a stellar campaign that saw him land a series of major races at the biggest meetings. Nicky is a good mate and a great competitor and I was the first to congratulate him on Saturday with a hug and a handshake after the success of Altior put the result beyond doubt.

Going to Sandown I felt it was going to be tough given the deficit at the start of the day as I was running a few of mine on a wing and prayer hoping they would come back to form. Some ran really well like Dolos, San Benedeto and Ptit Zig who, in finishing second to L’Ami Serge, giving him 8 lbs in the Select Hurdle, put himself bang on course for his attempt to win the French Champion Hurdle for the second time.

If you look at the figures you will see that in the season just ended Team Ditcheat enjoyed 49 more winners than in 2015-2016 when we topped the table for the tenth time. In many ways we have had an amazing season, with our horses earning more than £2.5 million for their owners in this country with 171 winners at a consistent strike of 25 per cent. If we could do that every season I’d be thrilled. But from the start I knew we were desperately short of genuine Grade 1 performers and that cost us dear. Even so, we’ve done incredibly well given our firepower with plenty of highlights starting with Ptit Zig in France through to Pacha du Polder winning the Foxhunters at Cheltenham with Bryony Frost and then Vicente claiming a second successive triumph in the Scottish National.

We are all back on level terms as the new season starts today (Mon) and once again I’ll be looking to notch up twenty winners by the end of September.

With Potensis stepping down after a rewarding partnership I’m delighted to welcome a new yard sponsor Morson International on May 1 in a deal arranged by my good friend Ged Mason, an enthusiastic, long time owner and supporter of the yard. He has sponsored Harry Cobden and my daughter Megan and it is great to have his company on board in a significant new arrangement which should benefit both parties.

If, and it is a big if, we have some decent ground I could well give several nice prospects including Black Corton, Tommy Silver, El Bandit, Capitaine, Diego Du Charmil, Moabit and several more a run over fences in the next month or so before putting them away for the summer.

You can’t stand still in this game so we will also be turning over a number of horses this summer, selling some on and buying new stock, hoping to increase the quality of the team and find some smart recruits who might develop into Grade 1 horses for the future.

I’d like to thank all of Team Ditcheat for their dedication and hard work and for the loyal support of all my owners who make it all possible.

Here’s to 180 next season!

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Armchair jockeys call it right

It is rare I don’t go racing on a Saturday during the season but, with a trip to my wonderful Fontwell on Friday, a journey to Ayr wasn’t on the cards for the next day so a Saturday afternoon on the sofa it was then.

While I wished I could have been in Scotland, it seemed like the type of afternoon that my pals and I should make an event of.

Kate, Ed, Ed, Aodhagan and I concluded we should have a Scottish National party (to celebrate the great race not drum up support for Nicola Sturgeon), optimistic we would have a good afternoon, but safe in the knowledge that if we didn’t we could call it a long overdue celebration of Vicente’s year win the year before.

Well, early signs weren’t great with not a huge amount to cheer about in the first couple of contests, but a quiet start to the day was clearly just a starter for what was to come. First, Zubayr produced an amazing run in the Scottish Champion Hurdle where he was foot perfect bar the last hurdle where landing hind legs first could well have cost him. He was followed by another solid effort from Romain De Senam and we were then ready for the big one.

Viva Vicente

Throughout the race we were pretty calm as Aodhagan, who is without doubt the brains of our bunch, called it half-way round assuring us Sam was in the perfect spot and Vicente would win and win he did and what fantastic performance it was. It was a ride from Sam that once again proved his brilliance in the saddle and reminded everyone of the abundance of his talent. He really is a fantastic rider and Vicente demonstrated his skill-set perfectly.

Since last season’s victory in Ayr, Vicente had been aimed all year at the Grand National, but after a fall at the first, a plan was re-drafted and he quite brilliantly did the rest. He possesses his jumping frailties but has a huge depth of stamina and a touch of class that on spring ground makes him a formidable stayer.

Of course Vicente has a big team around him from day to day, but Julie Fowler warrants a big well done in particular, she rides him, cares for him and loves him on a daily basis and was made up to see him repeat his victory.

Loss of a stable favourite a bitter pill to swallow

Winning a race like that is of course is as special as it gets and means everything, but as we cheered, we did so with Arpege D’Alene right in the forefront of our minds, hoping he would be ok.

Gut wrenchingly, Arpege had to be put to sleep after discovering that his injuries were too bad for him to be saved, a blow that has hit many in Ditcheat like a ton of bricks. Every horse has their own character in the yard with some more notable than others and of course different people love horses for different reasons, but Arpege was the apple of someone’s eye who epitomises why I believe people should own racehorses.

For the past two years Arpege has run in the colours of the lovely Mrs Barber, wife to Mr Barber our landlord, and maker of the finest bacon sandwich known to man. There wouldn’t be many days go by without Mrs Barber coming into the yard to provide ‘Pege’ with some finely sliced carrots or apples, he wouldn’t prick his ears for many people, but butter wouldn’t have melted when his mum was around.

The Barbers have been lucky enough to own some wonderful horses, they’ve won and lost in equal measure and gain huge enjoyment from their horses racing so for them along with Mr Mason and Sir Alex to lose ‘Pege’ was the bitterest of blows. Sadness is an emotion that will pass for sure, but I hope the memories that Arpege has given his owners and team will give everyone lots of reason to smile, in particular Mrs Barber who I was so very sad for.

The week, elsewhere away from our mixed fortunes in the Scottish National, has been an excellent one, Give Me A Copper left his mid-season blip long behind him and once again demonstrated his vast levels of staying power, Pilansberg and Capitaine gave the Broughton’s a marvellous week, Rouge Devils made it three this season while San Satiro not only had a walkover at Exeter but also put in a smooth display at Wincanton. He is a horse I believe will be well worth keeping on the right side of.

Fontwell foray never fails to deliver

The highlight away from Scotland though was easy though as I absolutely love going to Fontwell so I was thrilled to head off there on Friday in the company of Mum who I assured would love our destination way more than the big tracks she often finds herself at.

A drink and walk of the track behind us, we set about trying to win some races and our first victory came courtesy of Southfield Vic and perhaps more notably in the saddle from Lorcan Williams, a young man who has a big future riding. He is a nice young man, with a good seat and a relaxed temperament towards his work and I’m sure he will ride us plenty more winners in the future.

For me it’s scarcely believable but we are now in the final week of the season. The last week of my first year as assistant trainer and for me we are in the last week of a season I will never forget, for all the right reasons. There has been amazing days, forgettable days, hilarious moments, sad moments and just about everything else in between and, while the season is about to end, our quest for winners and good horses will not.

Nor will my love for my job or passion for racing. Sure there have been days through the year when things can get on your chest, but this game we are all involved in is an infectious little world and I am in love with it more now than I was at the start of the season. In my advancing years I just have one hope for the future which is that my love for this wonderful sport continues to grow.

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