NIKKI STEEL (Richard Newland), 12-3, official rating 111, cheekpieces

Since he won an Irish point in spring 2016 and shortly after finished fourth in a Wexford maiden hurdle there have been ten runs and nine have seen a finish in the first three – the exception being a return from a year and a half absence. First up he was second to Penhill – flattered to lose by only a length and a half but an excellent effort all the same - and on British debut he beat the now 130-rated Rocklander without getting too stressed. Unfortunately the only success since was a three horse race on quick going, and his first try in cheekpieces was his worst performance since Wexford. Nine months off, a numerically stronger race and stable out of form put a big dent in confidence, like a steel bar has hit it.

DARK INVADER (Evan Williams), 11-12, or 106

His latest run was a seven lengths third to Quantum Of Solace carrying 12-2 which was not a bad effort for a horse that has not had a significant break from racing in over a year and has won three times in that spell. Fascinatingly he is only rated two pounds above where he was at the start of that spell. Bloodaxe makes the allegation that he has been sending the two mile chase handicapper 5% of all his hay as a “not needed but it is the thought that counts” bribe. The wins have all been on galloping, level tracks so today a good run in defeat is all that it is fair to expect and some days he seems to need cheekpieces, other days he is fine without. Make your own guess.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (Fergal O’Brien), 11-12, or 106

Since beating Dark Invader at Ludlow she has gone to Leicester and finished fourth, nine lengths behind Snow Rescue, who was runner-up on that day. That broke a streak of four consecutive chases finishing in the first two, coinciding with a nine pounds jump up the ratings – she had been running in this sort of class of race before so perhaps something about Leicester foiled her although it is hard to see anything offered that was not chucked at her elsewhere other than the long climbing finish, but as she stays 2m 3f, that is not a convincing excuse. She has not won on sharp but twice lost by barely a couple of lengths, so everything here should be fine as well, unless she has an allergy to ratings in three figures.

DALLAS COWBOY (Tim Fitzgerald), 11-1, or 95

Naming a horse after arguably the most detested team in world sports was asking for trouble and since a Wexford maiden hurdle win at the end of 2015 he is 0/22 – quite bad for a horse that almost beat Mall Dini in a bumper. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. Apparently. Around New Year 2017 he was shaping as if a chase win was on the way, but it never did turn up and now a look back suggests that he simply likes Leopardstown, or runs faster there out of fear of leopards. The slight mystery remaining is how much a change of trainer would add, having had just two tries for Tim Fitzgerald. In only half a dozen British races he has been least ineffective at Market Rasen, as unLeopardstowny as could be asked for.

ROYAL ACT (Sarah-Jayne Davies), 10-13, or 93, blinkers

We had seen sufficient of this horse to label him a strange creature who gets an adrenalin rush every time that it is muddy at Taunton. In 2018 he won a race there a day before Cheltenham in first time cheekpieces and followed up two weeks later. This year he retained the title in first time blinkers and on seemingly non-ideal good to soft, but he did look the outstanding entrant in the paddock. He is up five pounds for that success (would have won by more but for errors at the last three fences) and has to cope with an undulating track and a much longer hike from Leominster to the course. He could do both but the acceptable price needs to allow for the known ways in which things could go off kilter.

NOMINATION GAME (Robin Dickin), 10-11, or 91, hood

A non-finisher in his only Irish point and a non-resident in his first stop, as Ian Williams only had him for one race, hurdles were used as an educational tool where handicaps were never tried. The switch to chasing saw instant improvement, finishing fifth in a novices’ handicap at Ludlow before losing at Leicester (2m 4f, good to firm) by less than three lengths. Unfortunately he has returned to that track twice since and got a pair of poorer results, although a mistake three out in the latest completely knocked the stuffing out of him and magnified the defeat. He has not appeared to have the speed for two milers in the past, so it is hard to get confident about the prospects today.

TORRENT DES MOTTES (John Cornwall), 10-11, or 91, cheekpieces & tongue tie

Another attending here on the back of a win, he followed up an indifferent chase debut by posting the effort of his life to win easily at Huntingdon last week. There was a bizarre rash of opponent errors at fence eight that trimmed the oppo, but he would surely have been there or thereabouts anyway. Back in third, beaten nineteen lengths was Brother Bennett, who Royal Act beat by about a third of that distance. As noted Royal Act made life difficult for himself whereas this horse had everything play out in his favour, so it is not to be assumed that he handles Royal Act with ease. One of his best hurdle runs was this course, going and approximate distance so it is not expected that departing from Huntingdon will be an issue.

SNOW RESCUE (Tom Gretton), 10-3, or 83, cheekpieces & tongue tie

As noted earlier, he ran rather well last time, only his second races since autumn 2017 and the first in cheekpieces. However, it was a bit more out of the blue than a couple of the others here to have struck peak form lately and thus we can hope for a repeat but not be certain. It was his best since sixth to Shantou Rock in a maiden hurdle. It was also only his third chase, with one of the earlier failures being a return from fourteen months off. So it is definitely possible that it was a sign of him finally coming good, nearly three years after being tailed off when starting favourite for his bumper debut. The about turn from regular failure to winner could be about to be completed very quickly
The Plan is to pick a race each day and give it a fairly detailed preview - hopefully picking up a worthwhile punt, but not scrabbling around for one. In reality, the "every jumps day" might prove impractical. For instance, you have been to Plumpton, had a couple of pints, get the train back, go to the pub. There might well be time to go through a race and publish, but no-one wants the unintelligible guff. So The Plan and The Harsh Reality may not always coincide.

The verdict is simple for each horse: The more Axes the better, but lay, or at least avoid, the Stalins. Keep a wary eye on the Mysterons
In order to handle changeable ground, a preference table has been added - the key is:
Y+ = Strong preference      Y = OK      Y? = Probably OK      ?Y = Maybe OK      ? = insufficient evidence
?x = Maybe a problem      x? = probably a problem      x = definite problem      blank = no evidence to judge
27th March, Market Rasen 3.15, MansionBet Handicap Chase (class 4, 0-110)

Course: Right-handed, sharp, undulating

Distance: 2 miles 1 furlong

Going: Good

Stables in strong form: John Cornwall

Stables out of form: Richard Newland, Tim Fitzgerald

Claiming Jockey Watch: Tom Dowson (Dallas Cowboy) claims 3 lb, 67/775, Jason Dixon (Royal Act) claims 7 lb, 15/62. Patrick Cowley (Torrent Des Mottes) claims 5 lb, 34/295.
HorseGoing DistanceCourse Comments
HeavySoftGd-SoftGoodGd-Firm2m 1fRHSharpUndul
Nikki Steel?Y?YYYYYY
Dark InvaderY??xY?YYYYxx?
Quantum Of SolaceYY?YYYYY
Dallas CowboyY?YYYYY?Y?Y?
Royal ActYYY?xYYY?Y
Nomination Game??xYx?Y??best at 2m 4f plus
Torrent Des Mottes?YYYYYYY
Snow Rescue??YYY??
Points of Order
Quantum Of Solace has had an inappropriately good time of it since joining Fergal O’Brien but she has been a beaten favourite four times, so market prominence is just a ploy by Spectre-controlled bookmakers to part you from your money. This race is not short of front-runners but it is a tactic that works better than average at Market Rasen, so anyone not getting involved at the fore of the race is playing a risky game. The selections are unimaginatively the two recent winners, but with Snow Rescue a possible threat and dragging Dark Invader into the picture as well, but the ground is a big worry for Royal Act, so we are left with a minimum price for Torrent Des Mottes of 7/2.
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