David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, born on March 19, 1939, was the son of champion jockey Herbert ‘Frenchie’ Nicholson and, although he was never champion jockey himself, rode 583 winners, including Mill House in the 1967 Whitbread Gold Cup, now the Bet365 Gold Cup. Nicholson was known for his forthright attitude, bordering on arrogance, which led to him being nicknamed ‘The Duke’ from an early age, when apprenticed to his father.
Following his retirement from the saddle in April, 1974, Nicholson went on to become an even better trainer than he had been a jockey. All told, in a 31-year career, he saddled a total of 1,499 winners and won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship twice, in 1993/94 and 1994/95, making him the only trainer other than Martin Pipe to win the trainers’ title between 1988/89 and 2004/05. Notable winners included Charter Party in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1988 and Viking Flagship in back-to-back renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1994 and 1995.
Nicholson, who died of a heart attack on August 27, 2006, is commemorated by the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle – known, for sponsorship purposes, as the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle and formerly as the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – at the Cheltenham Festival, which was inaugurated in 2008 and is, nowadays, a Grade One contest.