The traditional migration of jockeys is usually from the north to the south where there tends to be more and slightly better racing but, having landed a job riding for leading owner John Dance, apprentice Megan Nicholls is going against the normal flow of traffic.
Having spent her previous winters helping out with her father Paul’s jumpers in Ditcheat, Nicholls, 22, returned from her first winter in Dubai earlier this spring and moved to a base in Thirsk to begin the process of getting to know the horses owned by Dance and his syndicate Titanium Racing which are spread among trainers in the north.
However, flitting between trainers in the north and occasionally back to Ditcheat where her father has a dozen Flat horses became impractical after the coronavirus lockdown and she is now riding out locally for Kevin Ryan, ironically not one of Dance’s trainers yet although she says it is one of her ‘projects.’
“I was just starting to get to know the horses with Jedd O’Keefe, Karl Burke (who trained the Group One winning Laurens for Dance), John Quinn, Mark Johnston and Richard Fahey but the current situation has put a stop to that,” she explained. “You need to stick with one yard and Kevin kindly said I could ride out for him. He is only five minutes up the road so it also meant I could cut down on the driving.”
She added: “PJ McDonald (who rode Laurens) is still a massive part of the team but he has more of a free rein now and they wanted someone who could ride out and get to know the horses at home.”
With 16 winners to ride before she comes out of her claim, the opportunity to ride for Dance comes at a good time for Nicholls who was brought up with Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded and Neptune Collonges as neighbours and progressed through pony racing and point-to-pointing before turning Flat apprentice as she turned 18.
She has won the Silks Series, a number of races specifically for female jockeys, for the past three seasons.
Apart from the fact that you do not see the travelling head lad leaving the yard in the horsebox to go racing with the runners at the crack of dawn every morning, she said you would hardly notice anything was much different.
“The horses still have to be ridden out every day just as a farmer still has to milk his cows,” she pointed out. “At Kevin’s we are educating the two-year-olds and taking them upsides other horses just as you normally would at this time of year. It’s still got to be done. If you left them in the boxes for a month they’d go up the walls.
“When we are out exercising them we’re always two metres apart anyway and everyone is very sensible around the yard. Kevin has his own farrier who works just for him and I think the vets only come in now in an emergency rather than routinely.
“I believe it is pretty much the same in most Flat yards across the country. Pretty much everyone has their horses fit and healthy and ready to go as soon as we are given the green light.
“Dad’s jumpers are about ready to be turned out at grass on their holidays. Obviously you have to wind them down gradually from full fitness - it is not something you do overnight. But even in a normal year he’d be starting to rough quite a few off after Aintree anyway.”