Along with Zac Baker, another man entitled to emerge from the weekend with a smile on his face is ten times Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls. Having taken six horses to Kempton on Sunday, he came away with four winners two of which were in listed races, and two places. Given this you would think back on Manor Farm hopes for the season were high. However, Nicholls is playing down his chances of regaining the Trainers’ Championship wrested from him by Nicky Henderson back in April. “Being champion trainer again is going to be very hard, if not impossible this season because we have so many youngsters” was the recent statement; whilst emphasising this isn’t something he is stressing about and the pleasure he gets from training the next generation of potential stars.
The affable Somerset trainer currently sits second in the Championship table, with 42 wins and 58 places from 123 starts, and prize money nudging towards the half a million mark. By contrast Nicky Henderson is back in twelfth place, with a modest £180,000 in prize money, but only 82 runs. It is, of course, all fairly meaningless at this stage. Dan Skelton who has no realistic aspiration of taking the title is currently top with prize money of just over half a million pounds – it is credit to Skelton how hard he has worked the summer circuit, with no other trainer I can find getting close to his 319 runs. In a championship in which cash is king, it’s the glut of Grade 1 races at the business end of the season that count, and save for last season’s star hurdlers who are taking their first tentative jumps over fences, most of the big names are still enjoying an extended summer recess.
It’s easy to see why Nicholls might be downbeat about his chances after having only one winner at the Cheltenham Festival and none subsequently at Aintree last season. However , there is no doubt his stable is in form and in spite of his claiming lack of Grade 1 firepower there a number of class horses. I do also suspect a bit of kidology at play, perhaps taught by his good friend Sir Alex Ferguson. Wind the clock back to 2012/13 and the first time he lost the championship to Henderson. Early in the season when Henderson went out to defend his title, Nicholls was quoted as saying: “I can honestly say we have no chance of winning it this season . Realistically the prospects of another championship in the next couple of years are unlikely”. Not only did he regain the championship , but held onto it until last season.
This year’s contest is looking like another two horse race- their nearest rival Colin Tizzard currently trading at 7/1- and with Henderson 15/8 on and Nicholls 2/1, history tells us the smart money might be on the latter.