Another steeplechase-thriller from a British writer (Unbridled, 1990) who seems intent on getting on Dick Francis's tail--and succeeds perhaps better than he might wish. The strong opening situation is characteristic of Francis's early books. Arriving at the meeting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, up-and- coming Nick Storr, who rides for the great Waylands stables, is dumbfounded to hear that his long-standing mount, Ibn Saud, has been turned over to tricky veteran jockey Len Egan--who promptly goes on to lose the race. Convinced that Egan's gone in with orders to lose, Nick furiously confronts Ibn Saud's trainer, who also happens to be Nick's father, Peregrine Storr, and hears himself curtly told off (in front of a large audience that includes his hateful stepmother, Deirdre) and sacked from Waylands. An interlude riding for dogged northerner Maria Thornton is spiced by hints that Perry Storr pulled Nick off Ibn Saud to pay off a debt to his old crony Chris Wildman, Nick's godfather (natch). So far, so good. But when Nick decides that the fix leads back to a gigantic fraud surrounding his father's inheritance of Waylands, the story takes a turn for the later, more overblown Francis, and the ensuing cascade of revelations and chases (a forged will, a kidnapped heir, an undetected manslaughter, a laughably extensive blackmail ring, Nick as a vigilante Santa Claus dispensing summary relief to the far-flung blackmail victims while running to keep ahead of the heavies' minions, and yes, finally, a murdered horse) is more exciting than convincing. Unlike Francis's family melodramas, which gave his early stories backbone, Daniel's seems to give his tale more freight and intensity than it can bear. He could stand to take off a few pounds before the next weigh-in.