Paul Nicholls had all but conceded the Champion National Hunt Trainer title to Nicky Henderson until he saw his Neptune Collonges making in-roads into the leader’s three fences from home in the Aintree Grand National. Earlier in that day he had seen his great rival claim the first three races on the card and more or less knew that the game was over. However, Neptune Collonges got up in a thrilling finish with Sunnyhillboy and the huge Grand National pot was all of a sudden heading in the direction of Ditcheat and giving Nicholls a seventh Champion Trainer award.
The Grand National was one of the major highlights of the National Hunt season, which of course came to an end on Saturday with the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park. Nicholls of course rubbed a little salt into Henderson’s wounds by saddling the enigmatic top weight Tidal Bay to win that race too, giving Nicholls a grand total of just under £3.3m for the season. Henderson finished just over £400,000 behind with Donald McCain in third place.
By winning the ‘National’ Nicholls was claiming the race for the first time, which added to his Rock On Ruby winning the Champion Hurdle also a first in the race for Nicholls. His other seasonal highlights must include Kauto Star’s magnificent fifth win in the King George VI Chase avenging his defeat by Long Run in the 2010 renewal and then of course there was Big Buck’s record breaking fourth straight win of the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Whether or not he can win an eighth title next season is very much open to debate with some observers suggesting that if he does he will need to with the Grand National again. The reasons are simple as it is Henderson who appears to be holding nearly all the chasing aces for next season with horses from his Seven Barrows stable heading many of the antepost markets for the key and lucrative Grade 1 chases. Horses such as Sprinter Sacre, could become one of the greatest chasers of all time, then there is Long Run who should be back to his best, Simonsig is another class act while Bobs Worth, Riverside Theatre and Finians Rainbow were all major winners at Cheltenham.
It will be a fascinating battle between the two top trainers for certain.
Needless to say but it was Tony McCoy with 199 winners who won the Top Jockey award for a 17th consecutive time. The incredible man won with a strike rate of 27% and he finished 46 winners in front of Richard Johnson, who himself was finishing second for a 15th straight year. Jason Maguire stable jockey to Donald McCain finished in third place with 144 winners and a very impressive strike rate of 23%.
For McCoy the year will always be remembered for Synchronised, the horse who he rode with great brilliance to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, but who lost his life in the Grand National just a few weeks later. His death clearly underlined the ‘lows’ of National Hunt Racing, but we all know that the ‘highs’ hugely outweigh the lows and McCoy will be up to his usual standard throughout next season and for every season that he remains inclined to race for.
It is testimony to his work ethic that he has already started his summer jumps campaign with two winners at Ludlow on Sunday for trainer, Rebecca Curtis.