Balding hopeful Derby damp squib Bonfire can spark Eclipse fireworks


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The Independent Online

Of Camelot's eight vanquished rivals in the Derby, only one had a vestige of an excuse on the day. There are definitely courses for horses and Epsom, with its switchback contours, was not Bonfire's. In Saturday's Eclipse Stakes, over Sandown's more conventional terrain, the colt is to try to redeem the reputation that made him second favourite for the Classic.

"We've put a line through the Derby and we hope we see the real Bonfire on Saturday," said his trainer, Andrew Balding. "He just didn't operate at Epsom. It was plain to see that as soon as they started the descent he just wasn't going forward, and that is most unlike him."

The feisty son of Manduro has suffered no ill effects from his experience and Balding reports business as usual on the Kingsclere gallops in his build-up to his next challenge.

"I was a bit worried that he might have been sore afterwards, but he came out of the race well," he said. "You're never going to be blown away by his work, he'll go a length clear and prick his ears. But I've been very happy with the way he's been going and I think we'll have him as good as we can get him on Saturday."

The field for the £400,000 contest, traditionally the season's first elite middle-distance meeting of the generations, will be finalised today and Bonfire may end up as the only three-year-old. In the past 10 runnings, one of his age has taken the Group One 10-furlong contest on three occasions, a strike rate commensurate with their representation of 25 of 84 runners.

The market this year is headed by older horses; the six-year-old So You Think is even-money with the race sponsors Coral to become the sixth to win back-to-back editions, ahead of the four-year-olds Farhh and Nathaniel and another six-year-old, Cityscape.

Bonfire is judged fifth choice, at around 14-1, and while happy with his charge, Balding is realistic about the task he faces, even with his weight-for-age allowance of 11lb. "Sometimes you get a year when the Eclipse cuts up," he added, "but, sadly, this isn't one of them. There are some very good older horses in there."

Meanwhile a long-term deal was announced yesterday between the sport's authorities and the betting exchange Betfair which will bring in a minimum of £40m over five years. The landmark venture is a step on the way to the symbiotic racing and betting industries agreeing their commercial interests without government intervention.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Ajmany (2.10 Yarmouth) Put in at the deep end in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot but did some good work once he found his stroke. Will benefit from that experience.

Next Best

Top Billing (8.35 Newbury) Likely to progress from his seasonal debut effort behind and in front of horses who have won since, particularly presented with today's greater test of stamina.

One to watch

Motivado (Sir Mark Prescott) Was adrift in the Newcastle mud in the North-umberland Plate, but will have plenty to offer back on a sounder surface.