TRAINER TALK: Georgie Nicholls

  • Posted: Tuesday, 23rd November 2021
  • Author: Jake Exelby
  • Photo: Caroline Exelby

Georgie Nicholls has been riding and training in Oxfordshire on and off since the late 1990s, originally under her maiden name of Browne. Based at Kingston Lisle near Lambourn, she trains a string of five, including last year’s Mollington winner Old Guard, who daughter Olive – hoping to follow in the footsteps of famous father and multiple champion rules trainer Paul and older sister Megan in the saddle – expects to be among her first rides between the flags when she turns 16 next month. Jake Exelby spoke to mother and daughter before the start of the new season to interrogate the pair on their plans for the coming campaign.

Alongside Old Guard, Georgie hopes to run two-mile specialist Capitaine, maiden BB Kiddo and promising three-year-old Pat Anita this year and, as I arrive, Olive is tacking-up last year’s Revesby Park bumper third Calling London for jumping and gridwork in their manege. “Olive’s brilliant in the school,” confirms her proud mother. “We’ve got about 20 in the yard in total, including breakers and pre-trainers, and I still ride out five or six a day. In fact, I had this mad notion that I might put my boots on again and go and ride in a race with Olive!” A statement which leads us neatly on to Georgie’s career in the saddle, which lasted from her late teens until her mid-twenties and comprised “Only about 40-50 rides,” four wins between the flags and one Hunter Chase success. “I was 19,” confirms Georgie of her start, “And was so keen that I’d ride anything I was asked, even if it wasn’t broken in!” The first horse I rode was Lake Mission – we were second to the likes of Di Stefano and (dual Cheltenham Foxhunters winner) Earthmover in our first season and won twice in our second, including at Wolverhampton when they had pointing there. It was like a speedway track.”

Olive jumping Calling London

Two-mile specialist Capitaine

“There were some serious girls riding at the time,” continues Georgie. “The likes of Alison Dare, Shirley Vickery and the Pollys – Curling and Gundry. It was terrifying going into the changing room – I’d rather take my clothes off in the paddock!”

Georgie’s biggest success came on Game Gunner, a 100/1 winner of the Ladies Hunter Chase on Horse & Hound Cup day at Stratford in 2001. “He was a chance ride,” she laughs. “There was a blank against his name where a jockey should have been and Weatherbys phoned me up about five minutes before the deadline saying, ‘I’ve got the trainer on the line. Do you want the ride?’ I’d never seen the horse before but said yes before I looked up the form – he was a nine-year-old twice raced maiden! When I got to the paddock, he was huge – about 18 hands. The owner told me to just canter him round and that she’d be delighted to finish in the first five but trainer John Allen had got him really fit and there were only two in front of me approaching the last. I thought, ‘I ought to do something now,’ and we got up on the line to win by a head. I couldn’t even celebrate as nobody knew I was riding him!”

“My parents had moved to Kingston Lisle from Somerset,” Georgie adds to the story of how she got into pointing, “And I had eventers – which was always my passion – but it was hard to make it work financially. I started riding out for Charlie Morlock, who was really good to me, I was offered Lake Mission, who I went on to train myself and I ended up with eight or nine pointers. I don’t really know how it grew. I started training when I was 21 and had a lovely bunch of owners – the likes of Maggie Luck and Susie Samworth, for whom I trained Dictum. It didn’t occur to me that I was young, although when I got more experience, I could say things with more conviction.”

Georgie retired as she got sent more horses, explaining, “I loved riding and didn’t want to stop, but I don’t think you can train and ride at the same time. It was fun when I just had a handful of horses, but it became logistically difficult to spread myself in too many different directions.”

As her pointing operation expanded, Georgie took out a licence at the age of 23 and enjoyed her biggest success when Phar Bleu, owned by the late Andy Stewart, won the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow in 2004. “It’s such a shame that Andy passed away recently,” she reflects. “He was always one of my biggest supporters.” Georgie is refreshingly honest about the different between training between the flags and professionally. “It’s difficult for average pointers to take the step up in better company,” she admits. “It takes time, and you need to regroup. After all, when you train pointers, they’re all three-mile chasers. You have to do things differently under rules.”

After a break from training in her own name when she married champion trainer Paul and moved to Ditcheat, Georgie returned to Kingston Lisle and the sport she grew up with when the relationship ended, looking after three horses – including former Grand National favourite Shakalakaboomboom for Camilla Henderson, daughter of another champion trainer in the form of Nicky. “I’ve known the Hendersons for about 100 years,” jokes Georgie. “And Camilla lives locally.”

This season will see Olive making her debut in the saddle over fences and the mature 15-year-old told me about her hopes, starting with Old Guard. “He hasn’t really got anything to prove, I don’t think he’ll run too often and he won’t be ready for a while,” she admits. “But I’m quite excited about him – I’ve done all his flat work and schooling, including at Nicky Henderson’s with the likes of Altior and Champ! We like to do different things with him, so he’s been out hunting and I ride him up to the White Horse at Uffington.”

Georgie, Olive and Old Guard

Olive turns 16 on December 13th and – while OId Guard won’t be ready to run that early, she has big plans for the Larkhill fixture the following Sunday. “I’m hoping to ride Monsieur Gibraltar for Dad – he’s in training with Will Biddick and I’ve ridden him a lot down there. I’m also hoping to ride Sametegal – who’s now with Sam Loxton – this season as he’s eligible to run in points.” That’s a nice trio of mounts for the young lady!

“I’ll definitely stay pointing for a couple of seasons at least,” confirms Olive of her ambitions. “I’ve also got eventers and I can do eventing in the summer and pointing in the winter. I don’t want to turn professional too soon, split myself and do two jobs badly. In the long term, I’d love to train.”

Georgie agrees with her daughter’s restrained approach, saying, “I think kids are in too much of a hurry to get going under rules and think they should do four or five years pointing first to gain experience – some of them have hardly ridden over fences before they turn professional. That’s why I like Novice Riders races – you pair older, more experienced horses with younger jockeys. Indeed,” she smiles, “I think any horse over ten should be ridden by someone under 22!” She turns serious for a moment. “When I was a novice, the horses taught me everything, which is why you don’t become a decent pilot from getting on dodgy maidens.” Olive concurs. “Once you’ve got the experience, you can start riding the younger horses.”

Further down the line, what about ten-year-old Zara, who currently races Shetland ponies. “I know she wants to pony race”, confirmed her older sister, “But not for a couple of years until she’s bigger and stronger. I raced when I was nine and ten and I was tiny. The ones I rode were like mini-racehorses.” Olive, frank as her mother, admits that she never really took to pony racing. “I have much more fun winning when I’m eventing,” she confesses, “Because I’ve done everything with the horse myself. On the ponies, you’re only really steering them. You learn more about race-riding on the Shetlands – the tracks are much tighter and you have to be tactical.”

With Harriet Tucker – who rode Old Guard to victory last season – now focusing on her career under rules, Georgie tells me that Peter Bryan is likely to get some opportunities. “He comes and rides every day,” she tells me, “And helps with the breakers. He’s as excited as me about Pat Anita. Harriet’s still very much part of the team though. She’s stark raving mad – she bounces out at quarter to five every morning with her earbuds in. It was great to see her with the ‘McCoy’ for Leading Amateur last month.”

Asked for her views on pointing, Georgie again doesn’t pull any punches. “I think it hit a lull during the time I wasn’t involved,” she opines. “When I returned to the sport, it didn’t seem to be the way it had been. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because a lot of big trainers – like Richard Barber – stopped or went professional. And there are a lot more opportunities under rules now – we never used to have summer jumping, for example. Take 0-90 handicaps – they’re hideously competitive and full of horses that would once have been pointing.”

“I think we’re making progress though,” Georgie continues. “Watching a Maiden used to be like going to the zoo – you’d have a big one, a small one, a fat one, a thin one… We’re getting closer to the Irish model now. Although I’d still like to see more encouragement for British breeders, like bonuses for Maiden winners. People pedal faster when there’s money involved and it would become self-perpetuating. Pointing is a great education for raw horses – for me, it’s much better to run them in a Maiden over fences than in a bumper under rules. We need more support for owners, so more of them start thinking that way too. Pointing should be the showcase for the beautiful youngsters that are sales horses – I’d love to have a yard full of babies. You’d have 18 months full of lovely moments when you think they’re going to win everything in the world!”

Before I leave, I ask Georgie about a quote she gave – relating to a then four-year-old Olive – in an interview back in 2010, when she was Ambassador for Ladies Day at Cheltenham. “Olive is very wilful and very brave, not frightened by anything. She'll take the bull by the horns and do just about anything.” “It’s still pretty much true today!” her daughter replies on her behalf.

My final question is what the pair of them weren’t involved with horses? “I’ve always had a fascination with property,” says Georgie. Olive chips in. “We’ve decided that we’re going to sell the horses and the house and buy a castle in France… But horses are such an awful drug that we’d have to find space in the castle for some more!”

For more on Georgie’s horses, see the pre-season edition of Go Pointing or the South Midlands Area preview on this website.