The diminutive Yorkshireman rode over 400 winners during his time in the saddle, and was famed for his association with the brilliant filly Soba, whose career was a real rags to riches one, seeing her win the 1982 Stewards’ Cup, in what was a prolific season, and later find only the great Habibti too strong on a number of occasions in top-level events.
Her trainer David Chapman died in 2011, and Mr Nicholls said at the time: “Without David Chapman I wouldn’t be training racehorses, it’s as simple as that. I worked for him for 30 years and he was a great man and a great friend.”
Mr Nicholls, who has died at 61 after a battle with illness, was born in Pudsey, Leeds, in 1956 and was known universally by his nickname, Dandy.
Apprenticed to Deryck Bastiman, he picked up the appellation from his early days in the saddle after the actress Dandy Nichols, who played Alf Garnet’s wife Else, in Till Death Us Do Part.
He rode his first winner as a 17-year-old, and after 20 years in the saddle he began training in 1992, recording his first winner in 1993, but announced his retirement three months ago, amid financial problems which triggered a voluntary liquidation meeting in Thirsk.
His CV as a master of sprinters might never be bettered - the Nunthorpe Stakes, July Cup, Prix de l’Abbaye and Haydock Sprint Cup, as well as all the major sprint handicaps such as the Ayr Gold Cup, all came his way.
Such speedsters as Continent, Bahamian Pirate, Regal Parade passed through his hands, and Ya Malak created his own piece of history when ridden by Mr Nicholls’ second wife, Alex Greaves, as she became the first female rider to win a Group One in Britain, dead-heating with Coastal Bluff at York in 1997.
Funfair Wane was a dual winner of the Ayr Gold Cup for Mr Nicholls, triumphing in 2002 in the colours of Jean Keegan, wife of England footballer Kevin, and being in joint-ownership with Keegan and Mr Nicholls when scoring two years later.
Adrian Nicholls shared many of the big days with his father in the saddle, and paid his tribute, saying: “His record speaks for itself. There are a few other people snapping at his heels to take the ‘Sprint King’ title, but they’ll be doing well to do what he did.”
His last winner in his name was Sovereign Debt, who picked up a valuable prize in Qatar earlier this year.
The same horse won on Derby Day at Epsom on Saturday, and is now appropriately trained by Ruth Carr, the granddaughter of Chapman, for whom Mr Nicholls also enjoyed a fruitful association with Chaplins Club, among others..
Mr Nicholls also leaves another son, James, and a daughter, Amy.