Bonfire Burns Off Dante Rivals
1 Bonfire 3/1
Bonfire enhanced his prospects for the Investec Derby with victory in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York.
Making his seasonal debut, the Andrew Balding-trained colt got the better of Ektihaam to take the Group Two contest and book his place at Epsom. The 3-1 shot won by three-quarters of a length, with Fencing third.
The early pace was set by the Aidan O'Brien-trained Ernest Hemingway, but the stablemate of 2000 Guineas winner and hot Derby favourite Camelot weakened tamely in the straight. He was a spent force as Bonfire ranged alongside him after they turned into the straight. Jimmy Fortune had to bustle up the twice-raced Bonfire to go and win his race, which he did in determined fashion from a tough opponent in Ektihaam.
The first two pulled clear of Fencing, who never threatened in third place, while Godolphin's Mandaean was a disappointment on his first run for Mahmood Al Zarooni.
Balding said: "It was very good. I was getting a bit uncomfortable with all the hype because he's not a brilliant work horse and he's done it in flashes this spring, so it was a relief to get him out.
"He behaved like a professional, most of the time, and he did it very well in the race. Jimmy was very impressed. It was a truly run race and a proper trial. The second has had a run already this season and Jimmy felt we were getting a little leg weary inside the final furlong, not through lack of stamina but through lack of race fitness so that is all the more encouraging.
"We've only got just over a fortnight, but as long as he comes out of this well, we've got to give Epsom serious consideration. It's key at Epsom to get a position and it looks like he's got the ability to do that. But what do I know, I've never had a Derby runner! I've had a few runners there though so I know what it takes. I just hope it doesn't take too much out of him."
Varian said of Ektihaam: "We're competitors and you're always a bit annoyed when you don't win, but I'm thrilled with how he ran.
"He travelled into the race really well and I'm delighted that he's shown he's up to this level. He's a horse with the physique to improve through the year. I'll speak to the owner before we make any definite plans but it's nice to be going home knowing we've got a really good one on our hands.
"He's in the French Derby and the other race to consider would be the Group Three over 10 furlongs at Ascot. He's not in at Epsom and I think 10 furlongs is as far as he wants at this stage. Just 25 yards from the line the winner was finishing better than we were."
Betfred Dante Stakes (Group 2)
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