Standing room only as hundreds pay respects to former trainer
Hundreds of family, friends and colleagues of the late David 'Dandy' Nicholls crammed into York Crematorium on Wednesday to pay their respects to the former jockey and trainer who died this month.
On a wet, miserable day that reflected the sadness of the occasion, the place was packed, with mourners forced to stand round the main hall, through the doors and out into the foyer.
After his coffin had been carried in by his sons Adrian and James, with former jockeys John Carroll, Michael Hills and Franny Norton, trainer Nigel Tinkler recalled how the Pudsey-born 15-year-old Nicholls had run away from home, got on a bus and travelled the few miles to Wetherby. He spotted a couple of lads about his own age and size in a cafe and went with them to the stables of local trainer Deryck Bastiman, who gave him his first job in racing.
Horses and horseracing, which were up to then totally alien to him, thus became his life as he graduated from groom to apprentice and from apprentice to fully fledged jockey and then to top-class trainer.
But as Tinkler pointed out it didn't all go smoothly. "At one point of his career he was struggling for rides, so he worked as a postman and drove lorries in order to make a living," he recalled.
"Then one spring afternoon at Thirsk he rode a chestnut mare, trained by David Chapman, to win a maiden. Her name was Soba and in that first season she won ten races including the Stewards' Cup and went up 4st in the handicap."
During his riding days Nicholls bought some land near Thirsk, which he transformed to become Tall Trees Stables. He began training there with just a handful of horses and went on to become a sprint phenomenon with Group 1 wins in the July Cup, Nunthorpe and Haydock Sprint Cup, as well as five victories in the Epsom Dash and six in the Ayr Gold Cup.
Nicholls' children Amy and James paid their personal tributes to a great dad and grandad who was always there to support and help them and will be greatly missed.
Among those who paid their respects to a much-loved and much-respected character were former jockeys Kieren Fallon, Dale Gibson, John Lowe, Gary Bardwell, Alan Cousins, John Curant, Gyles Parkin, Simon Whitworth and Jimmy Etherington.
They were joined by current riders Jimmy Quinn and Graham Gibbons, trainers Kevin Ryan, Tom Dascombe, Mick Easterby, John Balding, Ollie Pears and Ruth Carr, former jump jockeys Graham Bradley, Shaun Keightley and Jeremy Glover, and Marion, wife of the late David Chapman, who was the person to have the greatest influence on the career of the much-missed former rider and trainer.