Megan Nicholls Racing Preview – Cheltenham November Meeting Special
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 November Meeting at Cheltenham on Friday and Saturday as well as some of the action at Lingfield.
But first, an important message…
Safer Gambling Week 2023
Please don’t forget it’s Safer Gambling Week in the UK and Ireland.
Horse Racing and gambling are inherently linked and there has been enough coverage in recent weeks about proposed affordability checks and the impact it will have on the racing industry.
However, while that debate continues to rumble on, it’s crucial to remember that racing and having a bet should be enjoyable – and of course, you never have to have a bet to enjoy the sport!
It’s so important to remember to keep yourself in check and make use of the huge array of tools available to keep your gambling safe.
Let’s Support Graham Lee
Graham Lee is one of our more senior riders and has been an absolute star of our sport, both in the National Hunt and Flat spheres. He’s somebody that everyone looks up to and is respected by everyone in the racing world and beyond.
He’s a great guy and a talented jockey. I wish him the very best in recovering from surgery on his spine after a serious fall.
It’s really hard when these sorts of things happen. The most freakish falls can be just as nasty as the ones that visibly look awful as well. Unfortunately freak things do happen but I’m keeping up with all the news and positivity is really good.
Even during this terrible time, it shows how incredible the racing community can be. Everybody has come together and helped raise money for Graham – as well as the Injured Jockeys Fund – which demonstrates truly phenomenal support. We really hope Graham can come out of this in a good way.
Fundraising will continue; me and a friend, Alice Brooke, are setting up an online auction. For anybody who wants to donate anything or is interested in looking, you can find information via social media over the next two weeks.
All proceeds will go to Graham and his family, which hopefully puts a little bit back for all Graham has done for our sport. Any help would be hugely appreciated.
But, most importantly, I wish Graham’s family well and fingers crossed that we wake up to positive news.
Eyecatcher of the Week – Stay Away Fay
We’ve seen nice performances from some novices in the last week. Naturally, a favourite of mine, Knappers Hill, was very impressive at Wincanton. He’ll always have a special place in my heart and I do have a soft spot for him.
But my eyecatcher of the week this time is Stay Away Fay, who won at Exeter last Friday.
He was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles when racing in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival. This was his chasing debut despite being a point-to-point winner previously but he jumped beautifully.
However, I don’t think a small field really suited him. You could see that he had his ears pricked and he pulled himself up when he was in front. Two challengers eventually passed him but that was probably the best thing for him.
When he came out of Harry’s hands at the last and put in such a huge jump, I knew there was plenty left in the tank. Harry gave him a squeeze and he took off.
I think the better the race he runs in, the bigger the field and the more pace that’s on, the better horse we are going to see.
He’s very talented, he stays extremely well and I think he’s a horse that keeps plenty to himself. Though it’s hard to know how good he could be over fences, I’m looking forward to seeing him out again.
I just think the future is bright for this horse. With stamina being his major strength, he’s going to be seen at the top level over fences, no doubt. He’s a really exciting horse to watch for the rest of this season.
Cheltenham 1.45 – Handicap Chase
My pick is Triple Trade (4/1). Joe Tizzard has had a really good start to the season. It was great to see him win the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter – one of his more local tracks – and his horses are looking really well.
Triple Trade himself will enjoy a strong pace, which it looks set to be. He’s won over further than the two miles so a stronger gallop will help his chances. He ran a really good race putting up a good effort over course and distance behind Dancing On My Own on his return. He jumped pretty well that day and has been a much-improved horse. If he can build on that return he can be in with a massive chance.
My each-way shout is Gold Des Bois for Harry Coben and Iain Jardine – they teamed up well through the summer. This horse has got some good form amongst his runs and he could be really well handicapped down to a mark of 123 – he had been up in the 130s before, and some of his runs had been decent.
He’s had two runs this season following a wind operation. One was behind Tommy’s Oscar who we know is very talented. Gold Des Bois’s jumping was a bit rusty that day but he sharpened up and was much better in second behind a massively improving horse in Bollingerandkrug.
His form is OK and he’s a big price at 16/1 with BetMGM and he might just outrun his odds. Iain Jardine doesn’t send horses all the way down to Cheltenham for no reason. With a light weight of 10-11 and Cobden on board, he’s my big price to throw in.
Megan’s Selection: Triple Trade WIN; Gold Des Bois E/W
Cheltenham 2.20 – Arkle Challenge Trophy Trial Novices' Chase
There are four runners in this one in what is a really muddling little race – it’s tactically fascinating.
We’ve got horses that all tend to enjoy a lead. Mighty Tom, when he was previously trained by Thomas Cooper, used to make the running but since joining his new yard he’s been ridden much colder, held up and having one run at things. I wonder if he’ll be the one to revert to the front-running tactics.
Homme Public will definitely be held up. He was impressive enough at Wetherby but I thought there was a bit to build on with his jumping. It’s Petit Tonnerre’s chasing debut so he might be the one to bowl along if it’s not Mighty Tom.
JPR One (6/4 fav) is going to be my pick… just!
This was really hard to get my head around. He was impressive at Newton Abbott and I think the form is small-field suited – Monviel, the runner-up that day, is a nice horse although, admittedly, Iceo underperformed.
JPR One is versatile in terms of ground, he loves going left-handed and there could still be more to come from him.
Megan’s Selection: JPR One WIN
Cheltenham 2.55 – Cross Country Handicap Chase
Gordon Elliott has an exceptional record in this race and is sort of keeping everyone else out with Galvin and Delta Work (2/1 fav) who have very much been Grade 1 horses in their prime.
They’ve turned to this sphere and done very well – Delta Work is the reigning champion at the moment and had a nice return run when finishing third at Punchestown and that could set him up nicely.
Galvin has a handy 7lbs off his back which will help him. The race being a handicap as well makes it that bit more competitive but Delta Work having had a run is no bad thing and he’ll be the one they all have to beat.
Each-way I’m looking at Musical Slave (14/1). This trip is ideal for him, the only concern is that the yard has been in fairly quiet form, but I think he’s the type to get on well in this sphere.
Megan’s Selection: Delta Work WIN; Musical Slave E/W
Cheltenham 3.30 – Novices' Hurdle
Captain Teague (8/13 fav) is definitely a worthy favourite. He’s a very talented horse who has shown lots of ability in all his starts.
He’s still pretty immature – we’ve seen when he hits the front and gets a bit lonely that he can have a bit of a wander around – but I’m not too concerned as I think the better the race, the better he’ll be. It’s not a physical thing, just immaturity and having a good look at the crowd!
These better races will suit him, and the likely pace from The Big Doyen will help as well. His jumping can be sharper than it was at Chepstow but his jumping when schooling at home has impressed.
I’m really positive about him – he’s short odds but the market has got it right.
Megan’s Selection: Captain Teague WIN
Cheltenham 2.20 – Gold Cup Handicap Chase
I am going with Stage Star (7/2 fav). He’s won first time out, every year, which means he goes very well fresh.
He’s been very effective around Cheltenham, albeit around the new course. They’re going around the old track, which won’t be an issue. He’s a horse that has plenty of tactical speed, too.
The fact that The Real Whacker stayed in this race is a bonus as it keeps Stage Star’s weight fairly sensible. We know he’s super talented – he was a little bit over-the-top at Aintree back in April 2023 but it was after a hard season, so we can put a line through that.
His form prior to that was notable in that he was very impressive when winning the Turners Novices' Chase and got into a really good rhythm.
He doesn’t have to lead but does tend to be prominent – the Real Whacker does like to lead, so I imagine Harry Cobden will use him as the one to aim at.
I could not be happier with the way Stage Star is training. The fact he goes well fresh, and that he’s so good at Cheltenham, means I am going with him to win.
Megan’s Selection: Stage Star WIN
Lingfield 2.36 – BetUK Churchill Stakes
A real shame to see Regal Reality (9/4 fav) drawn wide, because I really fancy his chances. He’s in great form and has been running well in a grade above so he deserves to get his head back in front.
He’s such a legend, a total credit to the yard and the team. The fact they keep bringing him back year after year to remain in the listed and group level is something they should take plenty of pride in.
He’s only had one start on the all-weather previously, back in 2021 at Lingfield, and he was only beaten by a nose. Course and distance form is always positive.
Draw seven is the only negative but he is quick out of the stalls and it looks like one or two others are wanting some cover. Richard Kingscote will be relaxed about how he jumps out – he’s versatile, he’s really hardy and he’s in great form. I think he is the one they will all have to beat.
Megan’s Selection: Regal Reality WIN
Cheltenham 2.55 – Handicap Hurdle
I am going with Judicial Law (6/1) for Jonjo O’Neill and Jonjo O’Neill Jr.
It has been relatively busy through the spring and the summer but he has been in really good form.
He’s kept improving, been very versatile in terms of the ground and I thought he ran very well over course and distance last time out in one of the Pertemps qualifiers. He stayed on really strongly up the hill and it was another improvement on what he’s done previously.
He has fairly consistent course form, is fit and at 11st is quite an attractive weight so there are plenty of positives when considering him.
Although this is more competitive than the Pertemps qualifier he ran in previously, I fancy him at the weights.
Megan’s Selection: Judicial Law WIN
Cheltenham 3.30 – Intermediate Handicap Hurdle
I like Resplendent Grey (11/4) for Olly Murphy and Harry Skelton. Olly has had a good couple of weeks for winners and the horses seem to be well.
This horse seems to be very consistent and he’s running in a handicap for the first time – a rating of 127 should be pretty fair. He was behind Captain Teague on his reappearance at Chepstow in the Grade Two Persian War and I thought it was a good effort.
We think an awful lot of Captain Teague, he’s a horse for the very top level, and although well-beaten Resplendent Grey ran such a solid race that day.
He is two from three over hurdles, his jumping is consistent and his level of form might just be stronger than one or two others. The fact he is stepping up in trip is no bad thing so I am going with him here.
Megan’s Selection: Resplendent Grey WIN
Odds correct at time of publication but subject to fluctuation