Bonfire (middle) keeps Ektihaam at bay following a prolonged duel at YorkPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Bonfire lays down Derby marker with Dante win
Report: York, Thursday
Betfred Dante Stakes (Group 2) 1m2f88y, 3yo, colts, geldings and fillies
BONFIRE held off Ektihaam in this premier Derby trial, the 3-1 shot fending off a persistent challenge from his Roger Varian-trained rival as the front two pulled clear in the final furlong.
Fencing finished third but Mandaean and the 11-4 favourite Ernest Hemingway failed to establish their credentials for Epsom.
The winner was immediately installed clear second favourite for the Derby, with most firms quoting 5-1. But Ladbrokes stuck their necks out, at least for the time being, going 8-1.
Ladbrokes cut Camelot to 8-11 in the wake of the Dante, though Paddy Power decided to lengthen the favourite's odds to 11-10 after Bonfire had proven himself a strong contender for Epsom.
He was always travelling kindly under Jimmy Fortune and always holding Ektihaam close home, though the second was another who travelled well through the race, and he too was cut in the Derby market, bet365 and Paddy Power going 12-1.
Fortune said: "He traveled really well, travelled like a good horse. They went a good gallop and it was a truly run race. He likes to do things his own way but he's very genuine."
Andrew Balding: relieved with winPICTURE: Mark Cranham
Winning trainer Andrew Balding added: "I was getting a bit uncomfortable with all the hype because he's not a brilliant work horse at home, so it's a great relief to get him out. It was a truly run race - hopefully it doesn't take too much out of him.
"Jimmy Fortune was impressed - he felt he was getting a little bit leg weary through the last furlong, not through lack of stamina but lack of race fitness which is all the more encouraging."
Bonfire won by three-quarters of a length, with Ektihaam fourlengths clear of Fencing. Ektihaam is not entered in the Derby and unlikely to be supplemented.
"He's got options, but I think we'll stay at a mile and a quarter for now," said trainer Roger Varian. "There's the French Derby and the nice Group 3 at Royal Ascot. We'll make plans when we've talked with the owner."
Mandaean was beaten halfway up the straight and finished sixth of the seven runners, with Ernest Hemingway eased inside the final furlong and trailing home a long way last.