When you hear the name Nicholls in June, you imagine you may be reading about Paul Nicholls’ latest trip to the sales, counting down the days until the Charlie Hall comes around. But now there’s a new Nicholls to steal the headlines, with daughter Megan looking to take her career in the saddle to the next level and land a first Royal victory.
24 wins to her name already as a jockey, she got off the mark for the current season by riding her first double at Kempton recently, when her victory on Zubayr signified a first Flat win for the master of Ditcheat;
“It was amazing. I was delighted to get Dad his first flat winner. It was a good day all round.” Said the youngster when asked of her emotions about the evening.
Megan has since partnered another winner for her father, when scoring on Azari at Wolverhampton, and now is set for her biggest day in the saddle of her fledgling career so far, when partnering her father’s High Secret in the Ascot Stakes on day one of Royal Ascot.
The six-year-old, who was a four time winner on the flat for Sir Mark Prescott before moving to Ditcheat, was last seen finishing only 1 ¾ lengths adrift of Top Tog in his Goodwood prep, and the younger Nicholls believes that spin around the Sussex Downs should have the son of High Chaparral spot on for this contest;
“He’s nicely handicapped, and ran nicely at Goodwood the other day and we think he’s come on for that, hopefully he will run well. It would be great to have a Royal winner!”
She also expressed her delight at picking up the ride;
“I’m over the moon to have the chance to ride and very thankful to Axom who own the horse and Dad for letting me ride him, when in reality, he could have booked anyone he wanted. I’m really lucky and really looking forward to it.”
Gratitude towards the experiences afforded to her was a common theme throughout our conversation, and there seems no danger of this talented and articulate young lady getting ahead of herself anytime soon;
“All the lads and girls in the weighing room are brilliant and you’re never short of people willing to offer help and advice. And I’ve been lucky enough to ride for Brian Ellison who knows the game inside out.”
“I feel like I’m in a lucky position to have support, not just from my Dad and the guy’s at Ditcheat, but everyone in the game I’ve come across.”
And she also hopes her newly found prowess on the Flat circuit may convince her father to let her ride a few more of his horses;
“Dad’s not really had a massive interest previously in having runners on the flat, but now I’ve gone that way it’s sort of more of an incentive and hopefully I can help him get a lot more winners.”
Many will wonder how the daughter of the multiple Champion National Hunt trainer ends up riding on the Flat in the North, linking up with shrewd handlers such as Brian Ellison and Mick Easterby. However spreading her wings and forging her own path in the game, was something she was always destined to do;
“I was very light so thought I would have a go on the flat, just for something to try in the summer, and really enjoyed it.”
“It was sort of a natural progression. As I got older I wanted to venture out and go to some new places and I’ve ended up in Yorkshire.”
And as a woman brimming with ambition, she clearly sets out her objectives for the rest of the coming season;
“I’d like to have my best season in terms of winners, and if I could pick up one of the big handicaps at one of big summer meetings for Dad along the way then that would be amazing.”
Nicholls junior seems set to bring the same infectious positive outlook to the sport during the summer months, which her father does during the winter when waxing lyrical about his jumpers. And you can’t help but feel the enthusiasm she has for the sport shine through;
“I love racing, Dad has been really supportive of me, first jumping and now on the flat, and I’m very lucky to have him behind me. It was the obvious route to have some kind of role within racing and luckily I really enjoy it.”
She also speaks with fondness of her younger days, growing up during the halcyon days of the winter game surrounded by some of the greats of the modern era on her doorstep;
“It’s something I suppose I took for granted when I was younger, but it was amazing and I’ve been lucky to be involved with some of the very best horses, it was very special.”
And when pushed for a favourite, there was only going to be one winner, a horse plenty have taken to their hearts in recent time;
“Kauto of course! He’s been a favourite for most people and was just an amazing horse!”
Despite an ambition to one day join the training ranks, a return to Ditcheat to take over the reins of the family enterprise looks on hold for now anyway;
“Maybe one day! I don’t think Dad’s ready to hang up his boots any time soon, and it could be difficult to push him out of the way! But we’ll see.”
“Hopefully it all goes well and I can keep on riding but if not I would look into the assistant trainer side of things and then training.”
Clearly possessing a wise head on young shoulders, Nicholls is open and honest when talking about the key to success and what she has learnt over the years from her father;
“Patience. I think that’s the biggest thing. Dad is very patient. He believes if it happens it happens, you can’t rush into things or make snap decisions if something goes wrong.”
“I think it’s taken me a while to learn that. I always wanted everything to happen straight away but now I’m learning and getting going in the game, and I’ve stuck with it through learning to be patient. Otherwise I would have ran off and done something else.”
She also talks of the impact the Richard Fahey based conditional Adam McNamara has in steering her in the right direction;
“He’s the first to tell me if I’ve done something right and he’s also the first one to point out when I’ve done something wrong. He looks at things from an outsider’s perspective rather than just saying something to make me feel better. Adam’s great, he’s hard-working and the results show that”
“He’s been doing brilliant himself so I would be silly to ignore his advice!”
With Zubayr unlikely to make the cut in the Duke of Edinburgh, High Secret looks like the Nicholls pairs one and only chance (this year at least) to land a famous father/ daughter victory at Royal Ascot. Would that top winning four Gold Cups? We could find out Tuesday.
One thing that is for certain however is that Megan Nicholls has a champions DNA and the maturity to match. Whether it will be in the saddle or in the training ranks, success is surely not too far away.