Paul Nicholls praised Harry Cobden, his stable jockey, for his outstanding performance in a season that saw him win his 14th jumps trainer championship at the Sandown’s bet365 Jump Finale.
Nicholls had a remarkable year, with a 13th King George win thanks to Bravemansgame’s victory at Christmas and a Cheltenham Festival double, his first in three years. This puts him only one title away from matching Martin Pipe’s record of 15 championships.
Cobden played a critical role in Team Ditcheat and partnered almost 100 winners for Nicholls this season, although he was behind Brian Hughes in the race for the champion jockey title.
“He’s 24 and he’s still young for a jump jockey. But he’s getting experienced now, he’s fit and strong and he thinks about a race,” Nicholls said.
“I don’t think anyone is riding better than him, in my opinion he is if not the best, one of the best jump jockeys riding at the minute.
“He’s a big team player and he comes in every day and he schools. He’s just getting better and better and has been brilliant this year.”
The Somerset-based trainer credits his staff at Manor Farm for the string’s success throughout the campaign. Nicholls’ attention now turns to next season, where his immediate focus will be to hold off the challenges of protegee Skelton and Nicky Henderson while also aiming for his 4,000th win.
Despite being numerically behind Hughes in the champion jockey title race, Cobden was a regular in the winner’s enclosure for the season’s big races with a plethora of Grade One contests secured. Cobden’s contribution to the stable’s success is immeasurable, and Nicholls is grateful to have him on the team.
Nicholls is confident that Cobden’s exceptional form will continue, and he will remain an essential part of Team Ditcheat’s future success.
“He’s one of the big players and he could be champion jockey one day, but I don’t think he measures his success on that,” added Nicholls.
“If it was done on prize-money he would be a million in front of Brian Hughes, he’s earned an amazing amount of prize-money.
“If he’s champion jockey one day, I’m sure he would love it – but I don’t think that’s his number one priority and I think he will be happy just to keep on winning big races and doing as well as he has.”
Although Bravemansgame emerged as a leading figure in the staying chase division, Nicholls believes that his latest crown was won through the sheer consistency of his entire string, rather than the achievements of a select group of superstars.
“To get to 14 championships is beyond my wildest dreams and to be a million (pounds) in front of Dan (Skelton), that’s a lot really,” continued Nicholls, speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing. “We’ve had some fantastic horses who have been consistent all season, and I’m thrilled.
“We set the record of prize-money that we won in a season back in 2008 and, of course, we had all those superstars – Master Minded, Denman, Kauto (Star), Neptune (Collonges) and Big Buck’s. We haven’t got quite that team now, so to do that now reflects well on the team as a whole.
“What I think is fantastic is we have had a 28 per cent strike-rate throughout the season. I think that reflects well on everybody – the team, the jockeys, the owners. Twenty-eight per cent strike-rate for the season is the best we’ve ever achieved, so that has been good.”
Nicholls is a driven trainer with a thirst for success, and his dominance in the 2022-23 season was a testament to his hard work and dedication to the sport. Winning 14 titles puts him in an elite category of jumps trainers, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Nicholls is already setting his sights on the next season, where he hopes to build on his success and take his string to even greater heights. With his talent and determination, there is no doubt that Nicholls will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of jumps racing.
He said: “We’ll have to keep Dan at bay and Nicky has a lovely team of horses as well – he hasn’t quite had the winners this year, but he’s just as likely to bounce back.
“It’s always competitive, but those two seem to be the main threats in terms of the championship, and Fergal O’Brien is on the fringe of that. He’s done very well and probably just needs one or two better horses.
“The championship is all about prize-money and luckily we’ve trained both the most winners and earned the most money (this season) which is very satisfying.”
He went on: “I would love to train 4,000 jumps winners – no one has done that before – and I would love to be the first one to do it. Martin’s total was 3,900 and something, and we’re closing that down. And the championship – I would love to win that 16 times, of course I would.
“Martin was a brilliant trainer and there was not quite as much racing then, so to train the winners he did was incredible. It would be nice to either equal or beat that.”