Formerly stable jockey to David Barons, for whom he won the Hennessy Gold Cup, now the Ladbrokes Trophy, on Broadheath in 1986 and Playschool in 1987, Paul Nicholls retired from the saddle in 1989 with 133 winners to his name. He subsequently spent two years as assistant trainer to Barons before starting out on his own, at Manor Farm in Ditcheat, Somerset, with just a handful of horses, in 1991. He gradually increased his winning tally, season by season, but first came to public attention in 1998/99, when he saddled 110 winners and won £1.19 million in prize money.
Indeed, at the Cheltenham Festival in 1999, Nicholls became the leading trainer for the first time, courtesy of victories for Flagship Uberalles in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and See More Business in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In an era dominated by Martin Pipe, Nicholls regularly played ‘second fiddle’ to the Master of Pond House in the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship; it was not until 2005/06 season, at the end of which Pipe retired, due to ill health, that he claimed the trainers’ title for the first time.
However, Nicholls has gone on to win the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship eleven times in total, most recently in 2018/19, and has handled some of the out-and-out superstars of National Hunt racing. He has saddled 46 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, where he is, jointly, the leading trainer in the history of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He has also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times, the Stayers’ Hurdle four times – with the same horse, Big Buck’s, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and the Champion Hurdle once.