The Duke departs the battlefield

The old sheepskin coat, David Nicholson's article of trade, will be removed from its hanger for competition for the last time this weekend. The trainer announced yesterday that he has brought forward his retirement date and will not, after all, be going at the end of the season. In the style of another "Duke", he will walk into the sunset sometime during the Murphy's meeting at his beloved Cheltenham.

The old sheepskin coat, David Nicholson's article of trade, will be removed from its hanger for competition for the last time this weekend. The trainer announced yesterday that he has brought forward his retirement date and will not, after all, be going at the end of the season. In the style of another "Duke", he will walk into the sunset sometime during the Murphy's meeting at his beloved Cheltenham.

"There is a possibility I could retire today, tomorrow or Sunday, but [it will be] at this meeting," Nicholson said yesterday morning. "Racing has been very good to me. My most treasured memories, from a jockey's point of view, would be winning the Whitbread on Mill House and, as a trainer, training winners at the Festival. That was the theatre I most loved to excel at."

Nicholson's departure, after 48 years in the game, leaves the way open for Alan King to take over at the Jackdaws Castle complex. However, King, who has been assistant at the Gloucestershire yard for the last seven years, will vacate at the end of the year and remove his talents to Barbary Castle in Wiltshire. The long-term successor to Nicholson has yet to be announced.

"Everyone knows that I have always been a keen supporter of young people and, in particular, Alan. He deserves every chance. He has been with me for 14 years and if he doesn't know me by now, then he never will," the trainer said. "I'm right behind him."

If King follows the Nicholson method he will, like another Duke, be a dictatorial figure around his foot soldiers. He will also seek, and attempt to deliver, complete loyalty. That King will begin his career with a licence for a limited period at his first yard is down to an inability to secure a long lease from the stable's owner, Colin Smith.

"Alan has decided to leave Jackdaws Castle and set up on his own at Barbary Castle and goes with my best wishes and those of Colin," Nicholson said. "In order to give him experience of running a large yard I have, with the agreement of Colin, decided to retire with effect from when Alan has been granted a licence to train. He will therefore take over the running of Jackdaws Castle until the end of the season.

"I will not be severing my ties with the yard and will be involved with schooling until the end of the season and, hopefully, in following seasons when the new trainer is appointed. Of course I am a little sad at going slightly earlier than I had anticipated but I believe Alan should have the maximum experience before starting out on his own."

King himself later explained his unusual introduction to the training ranks. "To avoid speculation, this is because I was unable to get the length of lease from Colin Smith that was on offer at Barbary Castle and I therefore felt it was in my interests to go to Marlborough," he said. "I am extremely grateful to the Duke for the years of experience accumulated with him and for standing down to allow me to complete my final education at Jackdaws Castle."

So, very soon, David Nicholson will be gone, leaving behind a plump scroll of achievement. His winners as a jockey apart, there are numerous Festival successes among his domestic achievements, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Gold Cup. And, of course, there are his victories in the Grand Steeplechase de Flandres, the defeat of continentals on a Belgian field. Just like another Duke.

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