Trainer/driver Bruce Nickells has been associated with many top horses during his 70-year career in harness racing, specializing in the development of young pacing fillies. His career statistics are incomplete since USTA record-keeping began well after Nickells started his harness racing career, but he is still credited with more than $6 million in purses as a driver and more than $7 million in trainer earnings.
Born on July 5, 1928, Bruce Nickells grew up in Princeton, Illinois. At the age of 13, he got his start as a part-time groom with veteran Illinois trainer/driver Charles Rumley. Nickells got his first drive and first win at Aurora Downs in 1949 when he was 21. After serving two years as second trainer to Hall of Fame Immortal Del Cameron, Nickells opened his own public stable in 1953.
Nickells developed outstanding horses in the 1960s and 1970s, including Kentucky p,3,1:57 ($497,270), Batman p,3,1:58 ($378,649), Fast Clip p,3,1:56.3 ($231,581), Combat Time p,3,T1:57 ($142,166) and Scribe Rodney 5,2:02f ($47,706). Nickells’ prowess caught the attention of Grand Circuit patrons and resulted in a partnership with Hall of Fame Immortal owner Lou Guida – a relationship that would rewrite the record books.
Between 1985 and 1993 Nickells trained six of the sport’s division-winning pacing fillies, including four in a row. Follow My Star p,4,T1:52.3 ($1,537,503) led the way in 1985; world champion Central Park West p,2,1:53.3f ($534,863) was next in 1988; and then in consecutive seasons between 1990 and 1993, the brilliant quartet of two-time divisional winner, world champion and Hall of Fame Immortal Miss Easy p,3,1:51.1 ($1,777,656), Hazleton Kay p,2,1:53.4f ($762,651), world champion Immortality p,3,1:51 ($1,614,939) and Freedoms Friend p,2,1:53.1 ($637,662). For his management of Miss Easy, Nickells was voted 1991 Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year.
Other top horses for Nickells include 1989 Hambletonian Oaks winner Park Avenue Kathy 3,1:56.4 ($553,521), Bruce’s Lady p,3,1:53.3 ($772,607) and 1994 Sweetheart Pace winner Efishnc p,3,1:54.1 ($570,113).
For the last 20 years Nickells has concentrated on the winter training and breaking of colts and has given youngsters such as Cypress Creek p,6,1:50.2s ($384,486) and world champion Grinfromeartoear p,3,1:50.1 ($1,746,009) their early lessons. Nickells has turned his stable over to his daughter, Brooke, but continues to be an active consultant and trainer in their rotation from Pompano Park in the winter to summers at Hoosier Park.
Bruce Nickells also has a son, Sep. Joanne, Bruce’s wife of over 50 years, passed away in 2007. He lives in Anderson, Indiana with Brooke and granddaughter Bryce.