Al Zarooni hopes Mandaean can stake Derby claim

Mahmood Al Zarooni expects to find out whether Mandaean is a realistic Investec Derby contender by running him in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York today.

This prestigious Group Two contest is widely considered the best of the British trials for the next month’s Epsom showpiece, with Authorized the last horse to complete the double in 2007.

Mandaean certainly looked the part on his two juvenile appearances for French maestro Andre Fabre, making an impressive debut at Longchamp before grabbing Group One honours in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

He makes his Godolphin debut on the Knavesmire, but his trainer admits he does not know the full capabilities of his exciting colt.

“He has done well and is ready to go. Hopefully, this run can get him ready for the Derby if he is good enough,” said Al Zarooni.

“I don’t really know how good he is yet. He won his Group One as a two-year-old so he is a nice horse and he is in good form.

“I think the ground will be fine for him. It was very soft when he won his Group One, but I think good ground might be even better for him.”

It was a slight surprise to see Mickael Barzalona booked for the mount, rather than number one Godolphin jockey Frankie Dettori.

Al Zarooni said: “We are letting Mickael ride because we want to give him a chance to get used to the English style of racing.

“In France, the racing is very different as they go slow and then speed it up.

“There should be plenty of pace in the Dante and it is a good chance for him to learn more.”

Heading the Dante market is the Andrew Balding-trained Bonfire, a winner at Salisbury on debut before finishing a luckless third in the Group One Criterium International.

He was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Dee Stakes at Chester last week but connections decided conditions were too testing for him on the Roodee and he was rerouted to York. Harry Herbert, racing manager for owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, said: “I saw Bonfire on Monday and he looked in great condition.

“He has been training well and this race will tell us where we stand. Hopefully it will be the route that takes us to Epsom.

“We always thought that a track like York would suit him, but we were worried that with only 16 days between the Dante and the Derby that if we ran at Chester then we may have a bit more time.

“However, the very deep ground at Chester prevented him from running so we rerouted to York as he is ready to run and needs the racing experience for the Derby.”

Roger Varian’s Ektihaam does not even have a Derby entry, but he was impressive enough on his seasonal return in a conditions race at Newbury to earn a tilt at what is a valuable prize in its own right.

“He’s obviously not in a the Derby at Epsom but after winning at Newbury quite impressively, I think he deserves his place in a race like this,” said Varian.

“It was a good performance at Newbury. It was only a small field but he had to give weight to everything and he pulled right away to win by five lengths. I think a galloping 10 furlongs at York will suit him well and I’m looking forward to running him.

“I don’t think conditions will be a problem to him. He obviously coped with softer ground well at Newbury, but the ground isn’t going to dry out to firm by tomorrow and I’m sure he’ll be fine.

“I wouldn’t even speculate about where we’ll go next with him.”

John Gosden’s Fencing brings Classic form to the table having finished six lengths behind Camelot when sixth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Gosden said: “He’s in good form. He had a nasty incident with a shoe-clip, which meant he had to miss the Craven. He then ran in the Guineas and he should come on for that.

“I think he’ll stay a mile and a quarter, he’s certainly bred for it, but we’ll see tomorrow.

“It looks a good Dante, but he’s in nice enough form, so we’ll see.

“We’re all on a bit of a fact-finding mission because of the ground and we’re trying to find the form lines as we’ve not been able to race.”


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