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Nicholls remains confident ‘we will make it 15 one day’

Nicholls remains confident ‘we will make it 15 one day’
Nicholls remains confident ‘we will make it 15 one day’

Paul Nicholls has vowed to dust himself down and come back stronger after falling short in his bid for a record-equalling 15th trainers’ championship.

The master of Ditcheat had dominated the National Hunt landscape in Britain over the past couple of decades, topping the table 14 times in 18 years, with six-times champion Nicky Henderson the only man to deny him during that period.

For much of last season, Nicholls led the way again, but he was knocked off top spot after his former assistant Dan Skelton banged in four winners at the Cheltenham Festival, before Willie Mullins powered past both thanks to the Grand National success of I Am Maximus at Aintree.

Mullins subsequently pressed home his advantage with an Ayr four-timer featuring the Scottish National triumph of Macdermott, and he put the seal on an incredible campaign with a final-day double at Sandown courtesy of Minella Cocooner in the bet365 Gold Cup and Impaire Et Passe in the Select Hurdle.

Willie Mullins after being crowned champion trainer at Sandown
Willie Mullins after being crowned champion trainer at Sandown (John Walton/PA)

Mullins becomes the first Irish-based trainer to be crowned top dog in Britain since the legendary Vincent O’Brien, while Nicholls had to make do with an honourable third-place finish in the final standings – but has no doubts he will become champion again.

He said: “We’ve knocked on the door in quite a number of big races and that has made it hard, but I’ve been in the incredibly lucky position of winning 14 titles and we will make it 15 one day.

“No team can keep winning the Premier League every year and it all depends on the players you have – and we just need to get a few more players in the team and up the squad a bit and we will be back.

“It’s a near-miss this year, but we have had over 130 winners, which is our most, and at a good strike-rate. We have also won very nearly £3million in prize-money – if we did that every year, we would be very happy.”

Nicholls feels Mullins’ Grand National success was ultimately the decisive blow, adding: “I could see it happening and the Grand National was always going to be pivotal.

“The Grand National did me a big favour once with Neptune Collonges when I was trailing Nicky and Nicky looked like being champion – Neptune Collonges won and it was all over.

“I’ve been concentrating on making Harry Cobden champion jockey and that has always been my sole aim this year. It would have been great if I was champion again, but we’ll move on and next year is already another year and I’m already excited for next season.

“Poor old Dan (Skelton) is feeling it a little bit, as he always thought the first time he finished ahead of me, he would be champion trainer – and then Willie has come along and trumped us both.”

Ascot Chase hero Pic D’Orhy was one of Nicholls' big winners this season
Ascot Chase hero Pic D’Orhy was one of Nicholls’ big winners this season (Steven Paston/PA)

While confident he will one day regain his crown, Nicholls admits he needs to add more firepower to his string to compete at the very highest level.

“We will do our best next season with what we’ve got and we won’t be starting the season with the sole aim of winning the trainers’ championship,” he said.

“We just like to win as many races as we can and ultimately win as many big races as we can – and this year, we’ve just been a bit light on that and knocked on the door a little bit. But it’s sport and it just depends on the team you have got.

“We always end up close to £3million in prize-money and the Grand National has proved pivotal. I’m sure if Willie didn’t win that, you wouldn’t be seeing him and the battle between me and Dan would have been interesting. I imagine it will be the same again next year.”

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