January 31st 2016 saw Nick Ayliffe hang up his saddles after 40 years as a National Hunt trainer based in our beautiful village of Winsford.
Nick is a Cornishman, born in Bude in 1934 who, as a teenager got his first taste of racing in Point to Points following in the footsteps of his father who was a jockey but was sadly killed in battle in Algeria during the Second World War.
However he had to leave any aspirations of riding in more Point to Points behind by leaving school at 15 to work in the stables of the celebrated Gerald Balding in Bishops Cannings,Wilts., Gerald was the father of the famous Ian Balding (Mill Reef) who trained in Kingsclere, and the grandfather of Andrew,who now runs the stable, and Clare Balding,one of our foremost female broadcasters.
Nick was there for a year and during this year the famous three time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Cottage Rake was temporarily stabled at Bishops Cannings before one of his successful victories in the premier NH race.Also stabled there was the favourite for the 1951 Grand National, Arctic Gold, who went off 8-1 favourite but fell at the first fence!
Nick went on to work with Gerald Winzer and the Devon & Somerset Staghounds in Exford before moving on to be Head Lad for the legendary Leslie Scott at Selworthy and after 2 years there joined the Army with the Household Cavalry. During his time Nick met his wife Eileen and married in 1957. While there he looked after a famous eventer, Starlight,who won Badminton and represented GB in the 1952 Olympic Games.
On leaving the Army Nick re-joined Permit Holder Leslie Scott staying with him for 8 years before again re-joining the Devon & Somerset Staghounds as Head Stud Groom again for another 8 year stint.
Nick set up on his own as permit Holder in 1974 for 2 years before taking out a full licence in 1976 and saddled his first winner Joint Account at Devon & Exeter who was bought for a mere £600 and then went on to run a creditable 4th in the NH Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Nick hit the headlines with one of his first horses Waltzer who won races at Taunton and Newton Abbot both times ridden by Nick’s son Martin.Button Boy, Tudor Waltz and Routing were also winners in the early days for Nick and Button Boy provided Brendan Powell Snr. with his first winner.
Nick had 6 winners in 1992 which is good going for a stable of 8 boxes not all of which were always filled.
Famous gambles were pulled off by Midsummer Walk backed in at Hereford from 66-1 to 25- and most recently Nick’s last ever winner Dalrymple at Huntingdon priced at 33-1 on 23rd November 2013.
Sara-Lane at Ludlow ridden by Martin Ayliffe
Nick has never had the luxury of expensive horses or many owners but he has managed to train over 50 winners in his career on a shoestring budget, mainly doing all the work around the yard himself with the help of a number of local stable lads and lasses.In the early days it was a real family affair with son Martin riding the majority of the horses. Martin is now Senior Lad at David Pipe’s yard in Wellington.
For his forty years in racing Newton Abbot dedicated a race to him in October where he was interviewed live on At the Races, a worthy tribute to our Winsford legend!