Tackling the famous fences at Cheltenham might be a dream that 16 year old schoolgirl Olive Nicholls has to wait a bit longer to turn into reality, but the fledgling amateur jockey is wasting no time in following in her famous family’s footsteps.
Riding at the Home of Jump Racing is high on the priority list for the daughter of 12-time champion Jump trainer, Paul Nicholls, and judging by the start she has made to her point-to-point career, the opportunity might come along sooner rather than later.
With two victories from four starts Olive is certainly doing the family name proud. Not only is her father Britain’s leading trainer, her mother is Grade One-winning handler Georgie Nicholls and her half-sister Megan Nicholls is a rider with more than 100 winners to her name under Rules. While that might have meant a career working with horses was always going to be on the cards, Olive has worked tirelessly to hit the ground running. And with horses like Grade Two-winning Virak, 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup winner Sametegal as well as Old Guard, Monsieur Gibraltar and Rhythm Is A Dancer to ride in the coming months, her tally of winners could easily increase significantly.
Though she is enjoying life in the point-to-point ranks, she admits that her first tentative venture in the saddle was not to her liking. Olive, who is studying for her GSCE exams at Cokethorpe School near Witney, said: “I’m very lucky to have the horses I have to get me started. It is good to have some horses that have already done their bit under Rules as well. “Before this I had a go at pony racing when I turned nine and I did that for a couple of seasons. “However, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would because all I wanted to do was jump and I found it slightly boring. “I always wanted to ride in point-to-points as it was way more exciting, so as soon as I turned 16, which I did on December 13th, I got straight out there literally six days after my birthday. “My first ride at Larkhill was aboard Monsieur Gibraltar and I finished fifth there. I wanted to have a nice spin around there and it’s safe to say Monsieur Gibraltar helped me out to achieve that. “For the moment I will probably stay pointing for a couple of seasons and I will take my appropriate license out so I can ride in some hunter chase races. “I’d love to have a spin around Cheltenham and that is something that I’d look forward to in the future. “Probably realistically riding around there will be next year, but I’d never say no if an opportunity came before that. It would be a good experience riding around there.”
With her first taste of point-to-point racing under her belt, Olive did not have to wait long for that first winner to arrive and on her very next ride aboard Virak at Chaddesley Corbett on December 28th she celebrated a victory she described as “amazing”. She explained: “It was on to Chaddesley Corbett after Larkhill and that’s where I had my first winner on Virak which was amazing. I only sat on him the day before and he was very naughty at home so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “I had only had the one ride under my belt but it had given me that confidence to kick on a bit. It was amazing when I won and it didn’t really sink in to start with as I didn’t really believe it. I had everyone there as well, including mum and dad. “The plan was to sit second or third and see how much I had left in the tank as it was his first run of the season. I didn’t really know how he would run first time out but it worked out in my favour. “We were out in a pair in front most of the way, then about three or four out the horse I was with came off the bridle. “We then came downhill to two out and Doc Carver came on my inside and I wasn’t really expecting that as he was well behind jumping four out. “We jumped the second last a couple of lengths down but he picked up well again and finished off well.”
At this stage of her career everything is a learning curve, and before securing success number two at Larkhill aboard Monsieur Gibraltar on January 2nd, she received a valuable lesson on the ups and downs of the sport. She added: “Before riding Monsieur Gibraltar for the second time I had Sametegal in the Ladies’ Race earlier on in the card. I came off him at fence seven and I had a pretty good beating from the horse behind me. “I was then determined to get up on Monsieur Gibraltar but he nearly didn’t run as the ground was not to our favour as everything was finishing tired. “I was going to sit at the back and wait and if I had anything left then kick on but I wasn’t expecting him to get round. “He weirdly was quite keen, which he wasn’t first time out. He was jumping really well and quite quickly I ended upsides Freddie (Gingell) up at the front. “I didn’t want to disappoint the horse as he was jumping and travelling well and he ended up doing it quite well. He has got some engine and it was great to win on him.”
Olive hopes she can transfer the successful start she has made to her pointing career to her other passion, Eventing, where she holds aspirations of being selected to represent Team GB at this year’s FEI Dressage and Eventing European Championships for Young Riders and Juniors at Hartpury College in August. She continued: “Last year I was selected to represent Great Britain in my last year at pony level for an event at Blair Castle. Although it only ended up being an in-house event due to Ireland being unable to come over it was still nice to be selected for it. “It was a pretty amazing event but unfortunately the pony was naughty in the dressage as there was a pretty big atmosphere, but he is a jumping machine and we climbed about 40 places after jumping. “Unfortunately, the European championships have been cancelled the last two years which has been my aim. This year I have moved into the junior section and I have got a couple of good horses for that. “The European championships are at Hartpury this year so we are the home nation which is exciting. They are both new horses so there is a lot of work to put in before we can look at that, but I’d like to think there is a chance of getting selected if all goes well.” Embarking on a career in the saddle is something Olive, who lives with her mum in Kingston Lisle in Oxfordshire, is keen to pursue on a more permanent basis in the future. However, her long term vision is to follow in the footsteps of her now separated parents and become a trainer. She added: “I’d love to ride for a bit properly in a few years, but long-term I would love to train. That’s the plan. “I’ve grown up with what dad has achieved and I’ve seen what goes on and being a trainer appeals to me in the future. “Of course, there is a lot that comes with it and I’ve seen it going racing with dad, but I also enjoy everything at home about it. I’ve just always loved being involved in everything.”
As well as appreciating the support she has received from her parents, it is a jockey who has enjoyed plenty of success aboard horses trained by her father who she looks up to. She explained: “It’s definitely nice to have mum and dad support me as they have both done a lot for me, while my school has also been very supportive of my riding. “When it comes to role models, I think Bryony Frost is one to look up. She has always been really helpful when I’m down schooling at Ditcheat with dad.” Before Olive can begin to dream of making a career in racing she has the pressing engagement of sitting her GSCE exams in May. And she added: “I’ve got my mock exams coming up this week and one thing I’m not looking forward to is doing Latin! “The aim is to do an Equine Business Management course at Hartpury College in September as that is something I’d be interested in and is probably more of a help to me than staying on and doing A-levels. “I’m predicted to get sevens and eights and one or two nines, so hopefully if I put the work in I can get them and secure my place at college.”
Jockey Club (U.K) Press Release
Photo: JW Photography