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.
Martin Pipe, who officially retired, due to poor health, in April, 2006, was a revolutionary, often controversial, trainer, who dominated British National Hunt racing from the late Eighties until the early Noughties. In fact, Pipe won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship 15 times in all between 1988/89 and 2004/05, including ten seasons in a row between 1995/96 and 2004/05; indeed, he relinquished his reign as Champion trainer only briefly, to the late David Nicholson, in 1993/94 and 1994/95.
Based at Pond House, Nicholashayne, on the Devon-Somerset border, Pipe trained his first winner, Hit Parade, at Taunton in 1975 but, in his 30-year career, would amass a total of 4,180 winners, more than any other National Hunt trainer in history. He saddled 34 winners at the Cheltenham Festival including Granville Again and Make A Stand in the Champion Hurdle, in 1993 and 1997, respectively, and won the Grand National with Miinnehoma im 1994. Indeed, he trained over 200 winners in a season, including a then record 243 in 1999/2000, on eight occasions.
Pipe is credited with introducing training innovations such as blood tests, meticulous record-keeping, which allowed him to chronicle his horses’ health and interval training, all of which are commonplace in the modern training regime. His approach allowed him to boost the fitness of his horses more than any other trainer and he achieved much of his success with cheaply-bought ‘castoffs’ from other stables, which he often improved out of all recognition.
Thomas Richard Dunwoody, who was awarded the MBE for services to horse racing in 1993, won the Grand National twice. Indeed, Dunwoody may well have won the celebrated steeplechase at the first attempt, in 1985, but for parting company with joint-favourite West Tip when disputing the lead at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. Nevertheless, the partnership returned to Aintree in 1986 when, once again well-fancied at 15/2 second favourite, West Tip kept his feet to record a two-length win over 66/1 outsider Young Driver.
In fact, by his own admission, West Tip was the first horse that really set Dunwoody ‘on the way’. Dunwoody rode West Tip in three subsequent Grand Nationals, finishing fourth in 1987 and 1988 and second in 1989 – which was, in itself, a remarkable record – but it was not until 1994 that he won the Aintree showpiece again. By that stage of his career, Dunwoody had become stable jockey to Martin Pipe and won the National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship for the first time, in 1993.
His mount, Miinnehoma, who was owned by Liverpudlian comedian Freddie Starr and trained by Martin Pipe, was only co-fifth choice of the betting market at 16/1 but, having survived a mistake at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, was one of only six of the thirty-six starters to complete the course. On the prevailing heavy going, Miinnehoma took over from the weakening favourite, Moorcroft Boy, who would eventually finish third, on the run-in and withstood a renewed challenge from confirmed mudlark Just So in the closing stages to win by 1¼ lengths.