QIPCO 2,000 Guineas winner Camelot may have headed the Derby betting all winter, but his former paddock-mate Bonfire gave warning that it will be no easy task at Epsom with a convincing victory in the Dante Stakes at York on Thursday.
The two colts were raised at Lady Carolyn Warren’s HIghclere Stud, which is listed as co-breeder of Bonfire in partnership with the Duke Of Roxburghe’s Floors Stud. Having been selected as a yearling by Lady Carolyn’s husband John Warren to join the list of horses running for Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, Bonfire became one of two in the Pocahontas syndicate, along with Vow, who also spent her formative years at Highclere Stud and is now 7/1 for the Oaks.
A beaming Lady Carolyn said: “Camelot and Bonfire grew up in the same paddock, which ironically was named Blenheim after the Derby winner bred by my grandfather. They were both imposing colts. Camelot was always a bit ahead physically and Bonfire came to himself a bit later once he was into his yearling prep.”
Trainer Andrew Balding has already landed one Derby Trial this season, on the Derby course itself, but that winner, Goldoni, will not return to Epsom for the Classic as he is a gelding. Bonfire, however, is now firmly on course and has been cut to 5/1 with most betting firms, with Camelot, the even-money favourite.
“We had a discussion about which trial we wanted to run him in and the Dante was last on the list as it only two and half weeks to Epsom,” said Balding, who won the Oaks in 2003 with Casual Look – his first ever runner in the race. “Chester was the preferred option but the ground went against us and we decided not to run. In hindsight that’s probably for the best as he would have had a much harder race on that ground at Chester than he’s had here.”
Bonfire, a near-black first-crop son of young Darley stallion Manduro, exhibited a touch of quirkiness when hesitating as he was led out on to the course but his trainer was not unduly concerned by his behaviour.
He said: “It’s more greenness than anything. This is only his third run. He can be a handful when he’s fresh but he’s not an ogre.”
Harry Herbert, who runs Highclere Thoroughbred Racing with his brother-in-law, has been involved with many top-flight winners over the years, including Harbinger, Petrushka and Conquest, but he could hardly contain his delight in having two live Classic contenders in just one racing syndicate.
He said: “There’s a lot of stuff going on here, with both horses having grown up at Highclere and now racing for the same syndicate. It’s all a bit spooky.”
There was further success for Highclere at Salisbury, where the Richard Hannon-trained Varnish and Daunt were both among the winners.