‘We all need a b*****king from time to time!’: Eleven-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls says horse racing is sometimes ‘a bit soft’ as he eyes 12th victory in King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day
- Trainer Paul Nicholls said ‘we all need a b*****king’ now and then in horse racing
- The 11-time champion trainer said the sport has gone ‘a bit soft’ in its outlook
- Nicholls claimed he is not ‘hard to ride for’ but just wants the job ‘done right’
It might be hard to believe listening to him talk with passion about winning a remarkable 12th Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton, but Paul Nicholls reckons he has mellowed.
But don’t take that as evidence that the single-minded ambition that has driven the 11-time champion trainer is on the wane.
For one, the man who has secured 3,191 British jump winners has his sights on becoming the first to train 4,000 winners over jumps, ambition enough to mean the accelerator pedal will remain flat to the floor for years yet.
Paul Nicholls said in professional sport like racing ‘we all need a b*****king from time to time’
More immediately, his four runners in the Boxing Day feature at Kempton — which the BHA confirmed will still go ahead despite new Tier 4 restrictions — include first and second favourites Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux.
Nicholls, 58, said: ‘You want to try to win every race you compete in. I used to get disappointed if we were beaten but you learn not to. I don’t dwell on it now. I wouldn’t say I chucked the toys out of the pram but I wouldn’t speak to people for days.
‘Now I have learned by the time I get to the car park to count to 10. Tomorrow’s another day and look forward to the next challenge. You learn as you get older. I’d like to think I have mellowed. [Assistant trainer] Harry Derham is probably the one who gets shouted at most but that is what assistants are for!’
Nicholls reckons he inherited his burning desire and exacting standards to succeed from his former policeman father Brian, recalling b*****kings of his own as a youngster when competing at gymkhanas. That has meant the seat as stable jockey at his Somerset yard currently occupied by 22-year-old Harry Cobden has at times seemed uncomfortably hot.
‘The other day someone said to me I have a reputation of being hard to ride for but I just want it done right,’ said Nicholls. ‘I’ve tried to explain to Harry a few times, if something goes wrong you are not letting me down but everybody who has worked so hard.
Nicholls said stable jockey Harry Cobden (pictured), 22, ‘needs waking up from time to time’
‘Everyone makes mistakes but you try not to make them twice. When you are out there they expect you to do a consistent job every time you ride.
‘When I was younger the pressure I got from owners about jockeys was the hardest thing about the job. I was there pulling the trigger and getting the blame. Now I don’t get any, I do exactly what I want and if anyone doesn’t like it bad luck.
‘We all need a b*****king from time to time. Harry needs waking up from time to time. It is a professional sport. In football if a goalkeeper or forward plays badly for a couple of games they get replaced. There is no big furore but in racing it is seen as terrible. We are a bit soft sometimes.’
Nicholls’ championship duels are currently with Nicky Henderson but when he looks over his shoulder a clutch of young trainers are building their operations.
It is even more motivation to succeed and he played a part in the career of the one he believes will ultimately succeed him, his former assistant Dan Skelton. ‘Dan has the same drive as me,’ said Nicholls. ‘All he wants is to be champion and he will have great pleasure in knocking me off the top one day. I call him Mini Me!
‘If it happens I will be disappointed in a lot of ways but I will still be proud of him… but it won’t happen for a bit, I can assure you!’
While clarity in what he still wants to achieve is no problem to Nicholls — a fifth Cheltenham Gold Cup is top of his wishlist — splitting his big two in the King George presents more of a challenge.
Cobden riding Clan Des Obeaux, one of the favourites at this year’s Kempton Boxing Day meet
Clan Des Obeaux, who like last year will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, has won the last two runnings of the race but Cobden-ridden Cyrname, last year’s runner-up off the back of a bruising battle with Altior at Ascot, will be a completely different proposition according to his trainer.
Nicholls said: ‘Deep down in my heart if Clan won it would be amazing. For any horse to win three King Georges is fantastic. Kempton is the ultimate track for him. That gives him an advantage. He has had a great preparation and he is the one to beat without a shadow of a doubt.
‘But there is not much between them. I don’t think Cyrname was quite right at Christmas last year, even allowing for the fact he had run at Ascot. He is full of enthusiasm and a totally different horse this year.’