Lady Buttons jockey Adam Nicol pays tribute to horse that made him

ADAM NICOL will never forget the cheers when he rode mare in a million Lady Buttons – the horse that made him – for the last time.

This is Adam Nicol and Lady Buttons clearing the last flight at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day last year, the last time he rode the horse.

He is approaching the final flight at Wetherby in a Listed hurdle on a rain-sodden Charlie Hall Chase day, and glancing to he big screen to check on pursuers, when the roar of the crowd becomes discernible.

“Ninety nine per cent of the time, you are just concentrating on your horse and others around you,” the 30-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.

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“That day at Wetherby, I could really hear the crowd. From the back of the last to the winning line, it felt like a lifetime.

Adam nicol celebrates his success on Lady buttons at Wetherby in November 2019 - he had just recovered from a broken leg.

“She was trying to go everywhere bar forward – I was riding hands and heels – but the crowd were making me panic.

“The second was never going to catch us, but the crowd were getting excited.”

With good reason.

Lady Buttons, who was retired this week after sustaining an injury on the gallops, was a fearless dual purpose horse who won the hearts of Yorkshire racing.

Adam Nicol says the best performance of Lady buttons came when she won at Newbury on Ladbrokes Trophy day in December 2018.

They adored her and she loved an admiring audience.

Trained at Catterick by Phil Kirby for owner-breeders Keith and Jayne Sivills, who run a pub on the North Yorkshire Moors, she won 15 out of 33 races – an exceptional record.

Twelve of those success came under Nicol, who had just recovered from a career-threatening broken leg in time to ride racing’s ‘diva’ at Wetherby.

It was to be for the last time – his injury curse was to strike again on Boxing Day last year and he called time on his riding career earlier this summer.

Adam Nicol with Lady Buttons at the stables of Phil Kirby.

Like the connections of Lady Buttons, the risk of further injury had become just too great and he wanted to retire on his terms after a career that yielded 127 winners over 12 seasons.

That a dozen of those successes came on Kirby’s mare is testament to his partnership with Lady Buttons and the confidence of connections in the former point-to-point rider.

“Riding her was weird – but not in a bad way,” explains Nicol, who says he was blessed to ride the horse at most of the major festivals in Britain and Ireland.

“The feeling I got off her was totally different to any other horse. I had that much trust in her, and confidence in her, because I knew her inside out.

“I can say this now but she was as safe as houses to ride. She never fell or unseated. She was so safe.

“She wasn’t just a good horse; she was a very good horse.

“You will have a long wait to see another mare that good in the North.”

Nicol believes some of his success owes to the fact that Lady Buttons raced frequently at tracks in the North that he knew.

He praises Kirby for giving the mare time to recover from a serious tendon injury that most horses would never have fully recovered from. It was, he says, that serious.

The faith of connections, after he played such an integral role to the horse’s development alongside Kirby’s team of stable staff, meant he felt few nerves when he rode Lady Buttons.

“I felt more pressure off other rides because there was no certainty they were going to win,” he explained. “Even if they won, you weren’t certain that you’d be put up the next time.

“For me, that day at Wetherby, personally and professionally, was a big achievement.

“For me, it meant the most of all of her 12 wins because I had come back form a badly broken leg after a fall the previous New Year’s Day.

“I wouldn’t have been in that position without all the help from the staff at Jack Berry House in Malton.

“The reception that day, you can never get a better feeling than that.

“Probably her best day came when she went to Newbury and won on the track’s biggest day of the year in December, 2018.

“You don’t go down south and clear the cross fence on a horse that jumps out of your hands. I was trying to switch her off – ‘woah’.”

In her latter races, Nicol’s biggest concern was not hitting the front too soon, as happened at Wetherby, in case Lady Buttons tried to pull herself up thinking her job was done. He says that is the sign of a class horse as Lady Buttons prepares for a new career as a broodmare.

“I had a lot of confidence in her. She gave that to me and I gave that to her,” he added.

“It’s bloody hard in racing to get a winner. To get 12 on one horse...”

Nicol then shakes his head in disbelief.

He knows Lady Buttons was a racing mare like no other.

That ovation at Wetherby was richly deserved – for both horse and rider.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

Editor