David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, who died of a heart attack, at the age of 67, in August, 2006 was one of the finest National Hunt trainers of his generation, saddling 1,499 winners in his 31-year career between 1968 and 1999. Nicholson was the son of former Champion Jockey Herbert ‘Frenchie’ Nicholson, who turned to training shortly after World War II. He was christened ‘The Duke’ by one of the grooms employed by his father because of his occasionally cocksure attitude as a young man and the nickname stuck with him throughout his adult life.
Nicholson became Champion National Hunt Trainer just twice, in 1993/94 and 1994/95, but was, in fact, the only trainer, other than Martin Pipe, to win the trainers’ title between 1989/90 and 2004/05. By that time, Nicholson had accepted a salaried position at Jackdaws Castle, a state-of-the-art training facility built by property developer Colin Smith in Ford, near Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire.
Highlights of his first title-winning season included victories for Barton Bank in the King George VI Chase, Mysilv in the Finale Junior Hurdle, Viking Flagship in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Mysilv, again, in the Triumph Hurdle. All told, he saddled 79 winners from 324 runners on British soil and won over £720,000 in prize money.
The 1994/95 season started well enough, too, with victory for Viking Flagship in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in early December, en route to a repeat performance in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and further success at the highest level in the Melling Chase at Aintree. Nicholson also saddled Hebridean to win the Long Walk Hurdle, Brownhall to win the Feltham Novices’ Chase, Silver Wedge to win the Tolworth Hurdle, Putty Road to win the Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle and Kadi to win the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup. He was leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival with three winners but, more importantly, the season as whole yielded 95 winners and just short of £887,000 in prize money, to give him his second trainers’ title.