Paul Nicholls records best seasonal tally with 173rd winner
Paul Nicholls hailed a fantastic team effort after capping a hugely successful season by reaching a personal best total of winners when Threeunderthrufive won at Perth on Wednesday.
The six-year-old's victory in the Listed 3m novice hurdle was the trainer's 172nd of 2020-21, beating his previous highest tally of 171 set in 2016-17. Mon Frere later made it 173 for the yard in Taunton's opening novice hurdle.
It is all the more remarkable as it came just three days before the end of a season curtailed by the pandemic: though Flat racing resumed after lockdown on June 1 last year, jumping did not start again until the following month.
Nicholls' 172 winners this campaign came from 689 runners and his Somerset yard's 25 per cent strike-rate is its best since 2016-17 and he completed a century before the end of the calendar year for the first time.
"We thought it was something that might be possible a while back and we've cracked it," he said. "It's been a fantastic season and when you consider we missed May and June, it makes it all the more incredible.
"It reflects well on the whole team, from everybody who has been riding so well to all the owners and staff. Everyone has worked hard during some difficult times and the owners have stuck with us.
"Everybody's enthusiasm has been rewarded and the horses have been fit and healthy and kept on running well and winning the right races."
The most high-profile of the season's victories came at Kempton on Boxing Day, when Frodon gave him a record 12th career win in the King George VI Chase.
He drew a rare blank at the Cheltenham Festival but has enjoyed other Grade 1 successes this season with Politologue (Tingle Creek Chase), Bravemansgame (Challow Hurdle), Monmiral (Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle) and Clan Des Obeaux (Betway Bowl).
Nicholls, who turned 59 last week, is set to be crowned champion trainer for the 12th time at Sandown on Saturday, wrestling the title back from long-time rival Nicky Henderson. He is around £500,000 clear of nearest pursuer Dan Skelton, his former assistant, in the prize-money-determined championship race, which he won for the first time in 2005-06.
"It's nice to be champion trainer as last season was a little frustrating as it ended earlier than we'd have liked," Nicholls said.
"We've had some good battles with Nicky over the last few seasons; he'd probably be the first to admit he hasn't had the season he would have wanted. He'll be back again next season, that's for sure, and then we've got Dan Skelton snapping at our heels.
"We've got some nice horses to run at Sandown on Saturday and it will be nice to go there without any pressure. The season hasn't ended yet and hopefully we'll add a few more."
Nicholls first took out a licence in 1991-92 and did not reach three figures in a campaign until 1998-99.
He has achieved that feat in every season since 2001-02, bar last term which was cut short by Covid-19 soon after the Cheltenham Festival.
He has trained more than 3,200 winners over jumps in Britain, landing one Grand National and four Cheltenham Gold Cups, plus 17 on the Flat and another 25 in Ireland.
Nicholls, the son of a policeman, started out as a jockey and won more than 100 races in the saddle, notably landing the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup in 1986 and 1987.
More on the remarkable Paul Nicholls:
New Sky Bet customers can get £20 in free bets when they place a £5 bet. First single & EW bet only. Odds of 1-1 or greater. 2x £/10 bet tokens. Free bet stakes not included in returns. Free bets are non withdrawable. No free bet expiry. Eligibility restrictions. Full T&Cs here. 18+.