Bonfire sends UAE's hopes in Dante Stakes up in smoke

Godolphin without a serious runner for the Epsom Classic.

Bonfire held off a late challenge from Ektihaam to win the Dante Stakes yesterday.
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YORK, ENGLAND // Mandaean could not justify his pre-race billing in the Dante Stakes as Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's Ektihaam flew the flag for the UAE on the Knavesmire yesterday by pushing the eventual winner Bonfire all the way to the line.

Mandaean lined up unbeaten in the most significant trial for next month's English Derby after two runs in France for Andre Fabre, but in his first outing for Mahmoud Al Zarooni he found nothing and trailed in last under Mickael Barzalona.

It leaves Godolphin without a serious runner in next month's Epsom Classic, despite over 20 colts entered. The Dubai-based organisation could, of course, ask Fabre to send to Newmarket Masterstroke, who was second in the Group 2 Prix Hocquart at Longchamp five days ago for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, but it is an almost impossible scenario.

"Nothing happened. Mandaean was simply not good enough," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said. "There was nothing wrong with him."

Joseph O'Brien set a fair pace on Ernest Hemmingway with Barzalona tracking Bonfire. As the field swung into the straight Tadhg O'Shea was in last place on Ektihaam. Barzalona started to rouse his mount with an increasing lack of success as the pair were swamped by Ektihaam and Adam Kirby, aboard Dream Tune, owned by Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa.

Two furlongs from home Ektihaam had reached Bonfire and the pair settled down to break the heart of Fencing, ridden by William Buick.

With a furlong to ride, it looked as if Ektihaam might go past but Bonfire held on to win by three-quarters of a length. Fencing was third, four lengths back, while Dream Tune was fourth.

O'Shea was delighted with the run. "Both the winner and him will turn out to be very smart," the jockey said. "They both have a bright future and hopefully my colt will have his own big day."

Roger Varian, the trainer, suggested that Ektihaam's day would come in the French Derby over 10 furlongs at Chantilly on June 3 as the son of Invincible Spirit is not entered at Epsom, which stages the Derby a day before.

"We're competitors and you're always a bit annoyed when you don't win, but I'm thrilled with how he ran," Varian said.

"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 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."

For Bonfire, Epsom awaits and for Andrew Balding, the trainer, it will be his first runner in the colt's Classic.

"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," he said.