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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Sprint king Nicholls dies at the age of 61

David Nicholls: 'Sprint King' died in June
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Adrian Nicholls said "there will only ever be one sprint king" after he announced the death of his father David, who had been battling long-term illness, at the age of 61 on Sunday.

Nicknamed Dandy, Nicholls rode more than 400 winners as a jockey before turning his hand to training, where he developed a reputation for being a master handler of sprinters, with the likes of Continent, who won the July Cup and Prix de l'Abbaye in 2002, and Regal Parade, also a dual Group 1 winner, advertising his talents.

Nicholls brought the curtain down on his training career after saddling Sovereign Debt to victory in a domestic Group 2 contest in Qatar in Februay of this year, citing financial troubles.

His death comes less than 24 hours after the same horse continued his remarkable 2017 campaign, now in the care of Ruth Carr, with victory in the Group 3 Diomed Stakes at Epsom. 

Paying tribute to his father on Sunday, Adrian Nicholls said many people, including himself, owed much of their career in racing to being given a chance by him and said the outpouring of grief from the industry was a measure of his popularity.

"A lot of people have been on to me already, which just shows what a great person he was," said Nicholls. "He was a good jockey, probably an even better trainer but most of all he was a great dad.

"He was a good man who helped a lot of people get to where they are today. He was always giving someone a chance, the list of them is endless. He gave people the chance to ride for big owners in big races, something you wouldn't normally get. He took chances on horses and took chances on jockeys and knew what he was doing."

Nicholls in his heyday at one of his favourite racetracks, Goodwood

Yorkshire-based Nicholls saddled 1,269 winners as a trainer, two of which came over jumps. Among the races he will be most remembered for winning are the Ayr Gold Cup and Stewards' Cup at Goodwood, having claimed the competitive handicaps six and three times respectively.

"His record speaks for itself with the winners he trained," said Nicholls. "Somebody may end up with a better record with sprinters one day but to me, there will only ever be one sprint king and it was him.

"He was a great dad and a good boss. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have done anything in racing and that's a fact. He helped me through the good and the bad times."

Franny Norton was one of many riders shocked and saddened by the news of the trainer's death and declared he will always remember Nicholls as "a father figure".

The jockey said: "I went to see Dandy in hospital only ten days ago after riding at Catterick – he was in fairly good spirits – and he rang me a couple of days later to say he was out of hospital and we left it like that.

Franny Norton: described Nicholls as a father figure

"It's very, very sad news he has died as we were pals as he gave me a leg up in life after I was at a pretty low ebb at one stage in my career - it would be fair to say he picked me up off the floor.

"We went all over the place together as he was like a father figure to me and took me from strength to strength as he gave me a big nudge along in life."

Looking back at their time together, Norton recalled: "We had a number of successes as jockey and trainer but I suppose one of the biggest was Tax Free in the Abernant Stakes at Newmarket in 2009."

He added: "It's hard for me to call how I feel right now after hearing the news and my condolences go out to his family at this time. I will always treasure my memories of him."

Nicholls enjoyed a successful association with the Lucayan Stud, saddling the one-two in the 2002 July Cup for the owners courtesy of Continent and Bahamian Pirate, as well landing the 2004 Nunthorpe with Bahamian Pirate among other successes.

Henry St George, owner of the stud, said: "He was a brilliant trainer for Lucayan Stud, winning the Nunthorpe, a couple of Ayr Gold Cups, the Abbaye and saddling a one-two in the July Cup. He was a big character but beneath the effervescent exterior was a kind-hearted family man."

Ruth Carr, who saddled Sovereign Debt, Nicholls' last winner before retiring, to win at Epsom on Saturday, said: "It's very sad to see him go so young. David was a hard worker and got where he did as a trainer from nothing.

"He started with just a field and put everything into getting where he did with training and all those good winners."

Owner Marwan Koukash was among those to pay tribute to Nicholls on Twitter on Sunday, writing: "Very sad to hear of the death of Dandy (king of sprints) Nicholls. RIP mate and many thanks for the wonderful memories."

Jockey Tony Hamilton, meanwhile, tweeted: "Saddened to hear the loss of Dandy Nicholls who got me started as an apprentice. RIP."

Former champion jockey and now trainer Richard Hughes added: "Dandy Nicholls RIP. Horse racing has lost a great man and trainer."

He was a good jockey, probably an even better trainer but most of all he was a great dad

Key data

David Nicholls
E.W. Terms
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