Megan Nicholls Racing Preview – Cheltenham Prelude & Sandown Tips

BetMGM ambassador Megan Nicholls gives her thoughts on the horse racing world, bringing her insightful opinions and first-rate knowledge exclusively to our blog every week. This time the former jockey – now a celebrated TV pundit – previews the exciting races at Sandown and Kempton on Saturday. But first, she has her say on the big news ahead of the upcoming Cheltenham Festival…

Cheltenham just around the corner!

Cheltenham has come around so quickly – it’s been a dramatic week this week in terms of horses that have unfortunately been announced as non-runners and have not been able to make it, the likes of Constitution Hill and Marine Nationale.

It’s frustrating for those connections but those horses will be back to fight another day. It’s a tricky time for yards this close to the Festival, keeping all the horses in absolutely A1 condition – they aren’t machines and sometimes things go wrong. When they’re trained so specifically they unfortunately are susceptible to picking up injuries or, as Constitution Hill has shown, just not being 100% in themselves.

We want to see all the champions, of course, but we’ve still got a week of incredibly competitive racing, some equine stars on show and I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s really exciting – you can watch our preview event on BetMGM’s social channels and hopefully we’ve picked out a few winners!

For BetMGM to have picked up the County Hurdle is really special. It’s always a really fast and furious handicap – there’s loads of runners which is always a great spectacle and what an amazing way to mark BetMGM’s first Festival.

I’ll be doing a blog for each day so stay tuned for my selections – we’ll be trying to pick some winners when the final declarations are out.

There will be lots going on throughout the week and I can’t wait.

Sandown 1.50 – National Hunt' Novices Handicap Hurdle Final

I'm going with dad's horse Fire Flyer (11/2).

At 12st, it makes things a bit tricky but he's a horse we feel is improving and still has a lot more to come. A mark of 127 we feel is lenient and we think there's a lot more scope left at this mark.

Obviously it’s a different type of track altogether than Taunton but he's pretty versatile, doesn't seem to be worried by any ground and has a massive engine.

His jumping has let him down a bit but he's been getting better with each run and this has very much been the plan for quite a while.

He's got form ahead of Pic Roc (7/1) already. The form there ties in nicely with the favourite Hasthing (5/2 fav).

I just feel as though Fire Flyer has the most scope for improvement. It's a very competitive and open race, but he is the one I feel could be running up in graded level sooner rather than later and that is why he is my pick.

It could be that Champagne Twist (10/1), who seems to be improving with each run, proves to be the biggest danger and a bit of each-way value.

There are plenty of runners in the race, which is good, and it was nice to see Champagne Twist with his head in front at Doncaster last time where he was impressive. At the moment I think he would be the each-way pick.

Megan’s Selection: Hasthing WIN, Champagne Twist EW

Sandown 2.25 – Imperial Cup

I'm going to stick with my friend Bad (5/1). He ran very well at Ascot with first-time cheekpieces following a wind operation, going down by a head.

He was unlucky; it was literally on the nod that he lost this race but he's been very consistent this year. The step up in trip to the 2m 3f was fine but I actually think returning to the two miles at Sandown on a stiffer track will suit him. I just think he's a solid option.

It's a wide-open race with lots of runners, which is great to see, and we have some course winners in the likes of Georgi Girl. But I just think Bad is the sensible option here, he's in great form.

There is plenty of money for dad's runner Sans Bruit (6/1) — he will be happier back on softer ground. The ground was way too quick for him last time at Doncaster so we didn't see the best of him but it's still early days and we're still learning.

Megan’s Selection: Bad WIN

Sandown 3.00 – Listed Mares Bumper

It's wide open. The favourite, Honky Tonk Highway (7/2 fav), is yet to actually run under rules. She's a point-to-point winner and was sold for fairly decent money — 165,000 guineas at Cheltenham in November.

She's making her rules debut for Dan Skelton in a Listed Race so she's obviously shown plenty at home. She won her point-to-point impressively but to be coming straight in at the Listed level suggests she's been doing lots of nice things at home, so we ought to respect that.

Of the others, here, I've Madeupmymind (9/2) for Ben Pauling made a pleasing start when pulling well clear at Wincanton with a nice filly of dad's called Jubilee Alpha.

I've Madeupmymind put up a battle but wasn't quite good enough on the day and she's going to be my selection, purely because it's a bit easier to read into that form at the moment.

Huge respect for Dan and Harry Skelton's mare but I've Madeupmymind gets weight off Honky Tonk Highway because she's only a four-year-old and I just think that form from Wincanton looks pretty solid and Pauling has had a good time with his runners this year.

Megan’s Selection: I've Madeupmymind WIN

Sandown 3.35 – Serial Winners Fund Novices' Handicap Chase

I am going to go Kotmask (10/3) here. I was at Sandown when he won at the end of January and he absolutely bolted up.

I was questioning that day whether the ground would be a bit too testing for him but he handled it very well. He since came out and won at Plumpton, beating Scarface (9/2), who he meets again here.

I just think Kotmask is going the right way, he's improving. He is off a career-high mark so he is going to have to improve again but course form is always important. I think this time, running over the two-and-a-half at Sandown may mean there's still more to come.

Golden Son (11/4 fav) was a winner last time at Kempton. He's been a little bit frustrating and in and out with his form, but he got right back to winning ways and was much more like it at Kempton last time. But he could be a little bit unreliable.

I think Kotmask here is the safe option. He's improving. He goes well at Sandown.

Two-and-a-half here shouldn't be an issue — he saw it out no problem at Plumpton. He's just going the right way.

Megan’s Selection: Kotmask WIN

Take Time to Think | | 18+

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