One of a very select handful of grey horses to have won the Grand National, Nicolaus Silver was a horse of striking good looks. But that obviously was not all he had in terms of assets, as he was also an extremely well-balanced and very precise jumper.
Bred in Tipperary, Ireland in 1952, by the bay Nicolaus out of the grey Rays of Montrose, he had initially been highly underrated in his home country, where he was rated as a moderate chaser. When Bobby Beasley, the jockey who rode him to victory in the National, initially saw him run a three mile chase at Naas in 1960, that was his shared opinion, but he and other detractors had only ever seen him race on unfavourably soft or heavy ground.
His trainer Dan Kirwan died suddenly in 1960 which led the eight year old grey to be sold at the Dublin market where he had a keen bidding in the knowledge that the horse was already qualified for the Grand National. There were two main challengers for Nicolaus Silver, Ivor Herbert, who was accompanied by the film producer Frank Lauder and Fred Rimell who was accompanied by Jeremy Vaughan who desperately wanted to beat his father who had owned First Of The Dandies, who had been the runner up in the 1948 National. The neck in battle between the two (or the four if you like) was won by Fred Rimmel with his bid of £2,600.
When Nicolaus Silver got to the Kinnersley stables in Worcestershire, he didn’t impress riders Tim Brookshaw or Bobby Beasley. He did go on to win his final pre-National race (the Kim Muir Memorial Challenge Cup at Cheltenham) and in the weeks leading up to the 1961 National, Rimell made such an improvement in the horse that just before the National he sent a telegram to his owner in Spain reporting that the horse had ‘a very, very good chance’ of winning the race. Rimell in his time as a racehorse trainer would turn out four National winners, but he always maintained that never had he been more confident of a horse before the race as he was with Nicolaus Silver.
It was not all plain sailing in the run up to the race however. There were rumours of a doping plot, so as a precaution another grey, High Spot was sent in the box bearing Nicolaus Silver’s name. It could never be confirmed that it was due to doping but High Spot was never deemed fit enough to race again. Then more mayhem ensued when he was being fitted with racing plates – he was ‘pricked’ and had to have his foot in a poultice overnight in order to draw out the absess!
Thankfully once the race was underway no more drama ensued, and the only one slightly worrying moment was at Becher’s second time round when he had a bit of an unsteady landing. For the rest of the race he ran and jumped like a dream but for most of the race the previous year’s winner Merryman II was in the lead. However from the second last Nicolaus Silver’s twenty five pound weight advantage was evident as he pulled away in the run-in to win by five lengths!
Vaughan had not only beat his own father but had made a huge winning – just that year the value given to the winning owner had increased from £13,134 to £20,020, and on advice from Rimell he had backed the grey from 40-1 down to the starting price of 28-1. The key to Nicolaus Silver’s success was the ground – he needed the going to be at least good, and when he appeared at the National in 1962, carrying an extra nine pounds, it was the heavy ground that beat him, seeing him finish seventh out of just seventeen runners.
Owner Vaughan’s fortunes changed dramatically and Nicolaus Silver was sold on to Bernard Sunley but by the 1963 National he was past his best and only managed to finish in tenth place. Following this third National he was turned out for hunting and his life ended as the result of a broken leg.