In the pantheon of great racehorse trainers, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are right up there with the elite. The pair have enjoyed huge success in horse racing over a long period of time, and both were recently made OBEs after the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list was released – a just reward for the two men’s dedication to their sport.
Few have enjoyed as much success in racing as Nicholls and Henderson, and both boast a remarkable record of winners in National Hunt races over the years. Between them, they have had six winners in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and consistently provide the favourites in horse racing betting with Betfair.
Let’s take a closer look at the career of both Nicholls and Henderson, from their early days in the sport to the revered status they enjoy now.
Nicholls: Winning it All
Having grown up in Gloucestershire, Nicholls started out as a jockey, enjoying success in the 1980s with trainer David Barons. This included back-to-back wins in the Newbury Gold Cup, with Broadheath in 1986 and Playschool the year after. A broken leg put paid to Nicholls’ time as a jockey in 1989 after he was kicked by a horse.
Nicholl’s training career began in earnest in 1991 after serving as an assistant to Barons. From the outset he enjoyed success, with his first grade one victory coming in 1993 with See More Indians in the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton.
1999 proved to be a defining year in Nicholls’ career. At the Cheltenham Festival, he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the coveted Gold Cup with a remarkable trio of winners. Cheltenham would prove to be a happy hunting ground for Nicholls’ horses – he boasted three Gold Cup winners in three successive years from 2007 to 2009.
But it’s the King George VI Chase at Kempton that will forever be associated with Nicholls. In total, he has had 11 winners in the race, including five wins in six years with Kauto Star between 2006 and 2011. In 2012, Nicholls added the elusive Grand National title to his list of achievements after Neptune Collonges won the famous race, ridden by Daryl Jacob.
It’s been a highly decorated career, and one that shows no signs of slowing down with Nicholls’ Clan des Obeaux winning the King George VI Chase in each of the last two years.
Henderson: Cheltenham Legend
Of course, Henderson is right up there with Nicholls in terms of his achievements. After competing as an amateur jockey in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Henderson began his training career in 1978, and has enjoyed great success in many famous races.
He won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham for three years running between 1985 and 1987 with See You Then. He’s had winners in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on two occasions, with Long Run in 2011 and Bobs Worth in 2013. Only Willie Mullins has had more winners at Cheltenham than Henderson among the sport’s active trainers.
Henderson’s success in the 1980s earned him the Champion Trainer title on two occasions, in the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons. The Grand National continues to prove elusive for Henderson, and he’ll undoubtedly be looking to add victory at the famous Aintree event to his list of achievements before his career comes to an end.
Respect and Rivalry
As two of horse racing’s most successful and talented trainers, Nicholls and Henderson have an enjoyed a great rivalry. Most recently, this has taken the form of Nicholl’s Cyrname battling it out with Altior, trained by Henderson. Altior had enjoyed a fine winning run over many months up until autumn 2019, but that was put to an end by Cyrname at Ascot in November.
Despite this competitive element, there is a great respect between the two, as you would expect given their achievements in the sport. Horse racing is a sport defined by winners and losers, and Nicholls and Henderson have showed over multiple decades that they have what it takes to train those winners on a consistent basis.