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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

An Interview with Charlie Davies - Assitant Trainer to Paul Nicholls

Updated: 6 days ago

No one loves National Hunt racing more than Charlie Davies, who has made the sport every inch of his life. Whilst growing up in Dorchester, Dorset, Charlie, 27, did not have any family connections to racing. Though hard work and determination, he has forged his own way and is now living his dream as Assistant Trainer to Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls. ‘That I’ve made it to the position I am in now without any family help, is one of the things I’m most proud of,’ says Charlie.

Photo Credit: Pinnacle Photo Agency Ltd.

Yet, racing is more than Charlie’s job when, last summer, he married Michelle. They fell in love whilst both working for trainer Jonjo O’Neill and have been together for seven years, making the move to Somerset together. Michelle is second head girl for Paul Nicholls, a talented work rider and looks after horses such as Hitman and Threeunderthrufive. They own a Patterdale terrier called Otto.

Charlie and Michelle married last summer

Charlie's job portrays the tribulations of a busy life in racing. The winners also mirror the bad days, and Charlie is one of the people that knit together Paul Nicholls' highly prestigious yard.

Did you have a horsey childhood? I was very lucky to have a horsey childhood. It all started when I was about five-years-old riding a naughty Shetland called Yorik. From then, I had ponies and did everything on them from hunting, show jumping and eventing. I was a keen member of the South Dorset Pony Club and represented them at Area competitions. Mum was brilliant because she drove me all around the country, allowing me to compete and have lessons. I owe a lot to her.


How did you get into racing? I always had in interest in racing but I got into racing quite late at eighteen-years-old. I started riding out for Nick Mitchell, who used to train half a mile down the road from my house in Piddletrenthide, Dorset. I got the bug from there and wanted to be a jockey.


Who was your racing hero as a boy? Growing up, my racing hero was AP McCoy. He was the best, set the bar very high and achieved so much in this sport.

What roles have you had in racing? I have had a lot of roles, starting at the bottom and working my way up. Aged nineteen, I started at Jonjo O’Neill’s as a stable lad and then became an Amateur jockey. I moved onto Charlie Longsdon’s as a Conditional Jockey, and went back to Jonjo’s as an Amateur. In 2019, I moved to Paul Nicholls as Pupil Assistant and then I was lucky enough to get the job as Assistant.


Were you a jockey? Yes, a very bad one! I rode as amateur and conditional with very small success. I had about a hundred rides in total and five winners. I enjoyed riding and it gave me a great start into racing, but I look back on it now and I think, why did I keep going so long? I was useless.


What were your best days as a jockey? I didn’t have many but Jonjo was very kind to me and let me ride in the Cheltenham Foxhunter’s, which was amazing. Riding a winner for the Mitchell Family at Larkhill also meant a lot as they were the first people who believed in me and gave me a chance.

Photo Credit: Tracy Roberts

Favourite horses: As a kid, Denman was the horse that got me interested in racing. I loved the way he used to gallop from the front and keep going. I loved a horse at Jonjo’s a horse called Onthewesternfront, who I rode every day and looked after – he was the first horse I really loved when working in racing. Now at Paul’s, I have a soft spot for two: Knowsley Road and Fire Flyer. I used to ride them both when they were young horses but Clifford says they are too good for me to be let loose on now!

Favourite racecourse: My favourite course is Newbury. It’s a brilliant racetrack, they look after you well (I’m a racecourse lunch connoisseur) and it’s not too far away. When you do as much travelling as I do, being only an hour and a half from home is lovely.


Favourite meeting: The Cheltenham Festival. Don’t get me wrong, it can be brutal there as well as the pressure and expectation that comes with that week is like nothing else. Yet, the pure joy when you have a winner there is amazing and, when walking back into the winner’s enclosure, the atmosphere is incomparable.


Describe your role as an assistant trainer: My role is hugely varied; it can be very different from day to day. In the winter, a lot my time is taken up by going racing, whether that is with Paul or representing him. At the races, my job is to saddle all the runners, talk to the owners, leg up the jockey and then report feedback back to Paul and the owners. When I’m not racing, I can be doing lots of different things, from watching horses on the gallops and schooling, taking videos for owners, helping Paul with a little bit of race planning, as well as various bits and pieces to help keep the yard running smoothly.

What is your daily routine? A normal day when I’m on the yard starts when I get into the office at 06.15, meeting Clifford for a coffee and discussing the plan for the day ahead. Paul and Dave will then join us just after 06.30 and we go through the riding-out board, discussing what each one of the a hundred and fifty horses will do for the day. I then leg everyone up for first lot at 07.30 and watch the horse on the gallops or schooling. After breakfast, which is from 08.30 till 09:00, then we ride another three lots then finish up at 13:00. I’ll go back in at 15.30, go up to the office and plan what jobs need doing throughout the afternoon to keep everything running well.


Do you still ride out? Occasionally, only really when the yard is short-staffed but I have to say that I’m not a brave as I used to be, so I ride the quiet ones.


What is Paul Nicholls like as a boss? In one word, I’d say, intense. Paul works very hard himself and he expects you to match him, which is tough. He’s very fair and doesn’t mince his words, but he can also be very generous and kind. He’s a good man to work for. 

What are the best aspects to working in racing? There are so many. I love working with horses: they are wonderful animals and never cease to amaze me with what they can do. I get to meet and work with some great people, and I get told fascinating stories and I’ve made friends for life. There’s nothing better than winning and having a winner on a big day; the nerves as you’re watching the race and the pure joy and excitement when you win. I’ll never get tired of winners, and seeing the joy it brings the staff who work so closely with these horses every day and their owners. It’s a brilliant sport.  `.


What are the worst aspects to working in racing? For me, its two things: the travelling and the anti-social hours of racing. Travelling up and down the country, spending hours on end in the car, is pretty crap and creates long hours. On a race day, I very often will end up doing twelve-hour days and continuous days of that wears you out. The anti-social nature isn’t great and, I think, it’s the main reason people leave this sport. Starting at 06:00 every day and working weekends and holidays, more and more people are deciding they want that time back, especially when the pay isn’t exactly great in racing.

What do you love about your current role? I love working with horses and people, which I get to do a lot of in my job. I like getting to meet different people at the races and seeing how much joy this sport brings to people.


If you didn’t work in racing, then what would you have done? I’m not really sure to be honest, an estate agent or something like that.


Best racing party you’ve attended: I’m lucky that I’ve been to quite a few great ones. But one sticks out in my mind: we had a pretty wild party in Ditcheat when Clan Des Obeaux won the Punchestown Gold Cup. So far, I’d say that was the best party I’ve been to.

What race would you most like to be involved with the winner? I’d have to say the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with lots of great winners but that’s the one I would love to be involved in. Walking back into the paddock after winning the Gold Cup must be unreal.


Aspirations for the future: In the short term, it’s to help Paul win another Trainer's Championship, which would equal Martin Pipe’s record. Then, I’d love to help Paul beat that record and train 4000 jump winners. After that, I’m not really sure: at the moment, I don’t have any interest in training on my own and at some point, I could see myself walking away from racing and doing something else but I’m not sure... My futures a bit undecided, which scares me.

Favourite meal: Steak and chips with peppercorn sauce; I also love Asian food.

Favourite drink: Coffee, Beer and Whiskey Sour.

Favourite snack: Chocolate.

Favourite holiday destination: Italy; I’ve been a few times and love it there.

Apart from Michelle, which celebrity would you take out on a date? Another Michelle, Michelle Keagan.

Favourite book: I love the Jack Reacher Series.

Favourite film: The Harry Potter Series, Lord of the Rings and the Batman films.

Favourite music: Country/Indie; Zach Bryan is a personal favourite at the moment.

Ideal night out: A nice dinner somewhere, followed by a couple of drinks at a cool bar. I’ve done my time clubbing, which is definitely not my scene anymore.

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