Glory seeker in the pipeline

The young pretender of jump training is favourite to clip the heels of the old master. The Paul Nicholls Interview

Football has Manchester United, jump racing poor old Martin Pipe. Success may well breed success but it tends, in this country at least, to provoke base reaction. Pipe has done nothing more offensive than take the training of thoroughbreds to unprecedented levels of expertise and rewrite his sport's record books time and time again, yet he is the man that everyone wants to beat and everyone else wants to see beaten.

Football has Manchester United, jump racing poor old Martin Pipe. Success may well breed success but it tends, in this country at least, to provoke base reaction. Pipe has done nothing more offensive than take the training of thoroughbreds to unprecedented levels of expertise and rewrite his sport's record books time and time again, yet he is the man that everyone wants to beat and everyone else wants to see beaten.

Earlier this year, the Malvolios almost had their wish. For the first time in what seems like living memory Pipe's stranglehold on the trainers' championship was threatened and the race for the title, which is decided by total prize-money accrued, went down to the wire. It may seem rather rough luck on Paul Nicholls to finish runner-up after having sent out horses to net £1.2m for their owners and score 110 victories including the blue riband, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but such is the strength of Pipe's team.

Nicholls's tremendous effort with half the numbers of his rival may have been a double-edged sword. He has now proved that he is one of the few in the country capable of dethroning the perennial king but expectation is apt to lead to disappointment, particularly where horses are concerned. Nicholls tries to defuse the situation by declaring, in his gentle West Country burr, that he has set himself no goals in terms of the championship, but he is not wholly convincing.

There is a sense in racing, especially the cosy world of jump racing, that it is not very seemly for a fellow to be seen to express an allencompassing desire to win. And though Nicholls, 37, may look much cuddlier than Pipe and, in his regulation suit and trilby, much more in keeping with the familiar, acceptable pattern, he is just as single-minded. His progress up the ladder has been rapid; he first took out a licence only eight years ago this month, last season's prize-money haul was double his previous best and he acknowledges, with a glint in his dark grey eyes that is already relishing the battles to come, that his current team of horses is potentially the strongest he has assembled in terms of quality.

"You can't do this job properly unless you are seriously competitive," he said, "and it's a desperately emotional sport one way and another. The day I don't want to show what I feel - and that includes disappointment - will be the day I pack it in.

"After I won the Gold Cup and those other good races at Cheltenham this year, I couldn't really understand why people thought I'd perhaps achieved all I wanted to. Of course not; it was a wonderful meeting for us, but I immediately wanted to do it all again. The most important race is always the next one you're going to win."

Nicholls, his wife Bridget and their staff care for 75 or so horses at Ditcheat, near Shepton Mallet, in Somerset. He has the backing of some of jump racing's big-spending owners, including Paul Barber, on whose farm he trains. He makes his living by maximising their fun.

The policeman's son was a good jockey in the 1980s but he is a much better trainer. One thing, though, you will never hear from any sensible horsemen is how clever they are. The old adage about pride and falls comes from their world and disaster is only ever a stride away. "When we started, the first target was to give it five years and see," he said, "and then if it didn't work out then at least we'd tried. When you start you're like any business, you just hope to develop. Bigger targets come later. But we've been lucky enough to have some good owners and really nice horses."

Nice horses indeed. This year's squad includes See More Business, who looked very slick indeed when he launched his title defence at Wetherby earlier this month, and the other two Festival heroes, Call Equiname and Flagship Uberalles, plus others who threaten to take a hand at the highest level, like the Grand National prospects Double Thriller and Escartefigue, and Fadalko, an exciting novice who runs at Cheltenham this afternoon.

A higher profile brings more demands and a bigger operation more delegation. A racehorse trainer is only as good as the crew behind him and right now Manor Farm Stables is a happy ship. "It's all fairly intensive. At this time of year I'm flat out from six in the morning 'til 10 at night. But this sort of pressure I can cope with and thrive on."

Horses are individuals, not simply racing machines, and being intimately involved brings the full range of emotions into play. Frustration was high on the list at Cheltenham on Friday when Dines, a talented but enigmatic creature, refused to jump off with his rivals. He had played the trick before and his trainer was down there on the blocks to try to convince him of the error of his ways. But the attention to detail was thwarted by the antics of the starter, who decided that the runners had anticipated his wishes by an instant and called them back as they, Dines included, sprang forward. The gelding declined to play at the second time of asking.

The Cheltenham trio brought three different kinds of intense satisfaction. See More Business's Gold Cup was justice; the nine-year-old had been among the favourites the previous year when he was taken out through no fault of his own as one of Pipe's runners veered past a fence as he was pulling up. Call Equiname's Queen Mother Champion Chase was a reward for years of skill and teamwork; the grey has legs of glass and keeping him sound enough to race, let alone win at the highest level, is verging on the miraculous. Flagship Uberalles' Arkle Trophy was simply the triumph of youth, an uncomplicated baby fulfilling his potential.

"It was an incredible few days, and sometimes I can hardly believe it happened," Nicholls said. "I think, of the three, Call Equiname gave us most pleasure. See More Business justified our faith, but Call Equiname had overcome so many injury problems. For five years I'd thought he could win that race and it took us five years to get him there."

What Nicholls admits he did not enjoy was the last month of last season. After the Cheltenham Festival Pipe, seeing his title in danger, began to muster his cohorts with a vengeance and turn the screw.

The rivalry between the two West Country neighbours has always had a slight element of needle in it but as the campaign neared its end things became rather too sharp. Some slight rule-bending by Pipe in drafting extra recruits into his team was matched by Nicholls, though he was actually secretly relieved when neither benefited. "It all got very silly in the end," he said. "I knew we were going to be beaten because we simply didn't have the numbers to compete," he said. "If it had been decided on win prize-money alone we would have won, but it was the place money that swung it. It was heartening and flattering that just about everyone wanted us to win, but it wasn't to be and the championship certainly isn't a priority this time. We just want to produce nice horses to win nice races.

"People say I'm one of the ones who can tackle Martin but I'm actually not that conscious of it. You're trying to beat everyone, not just him. But he is exceptional at his job. He started when I was riding and I quickly realised the horses I was on weren't as fit as his. Fitness was his key, that's why they were, and are, winning, and I use the same short, sharp interval training methods. Like him we've got a short, steep uphill gallop and none of my staying chasers ever goes more than five furlongs at home."

The young pretender is playing the old hand at his own game and as the season gets into its stride their rivalry is bound to add some frisson to proceedings. "I have a lot of respect for Martin," added Nicholls, "but just because I think he's a very good trainer and very hard to beat it doesn't mean I have to send him a Christmas card."

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower