Bonfire aims to keep his Derby dream alive on his seasonal return in today’s Stobart Barristers Dee Stakes at Chester.
The Manduro colt made a big impression when winning on his debut at Salisbury last September and then ran a fine third in the Group One Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.
The form could hardly be stronger given the winner, French Fifteen, won the Prix Djebel last month before running second in last weekend’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Bonfire is currently second favourite behind Guineas hero Camelot in the ante-post betting for the Investec Derby at Epsom.
Trainer Andrew Balding said: “I’m very happy with him. He showed he handles soft ground in France but he will have to handle it on his first run of the year, which is not ideal.
“He’ll be entitled to come on for it but at the same time we think a fair bit of him so he should be very competitive.
“It was pleasing to see French Fifteen run so well in the Guineas, but there’s no such thing as a weak Group One and to be third in one of those and be a little bit unlucky means he’s probably the form pick.
“But a couple have already had a run which I think will be a bonus on this ground.
“I don’t feel under any pressure that he’s second favourite for the Derby but I just hope he runs well enough so that he still is after the race.”
The only other runner with Pattern-race form is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Astrology, third in the Futurity Stakes and the Autumn Stakes as a juvenile.
Gerard Butler’s Prince Alzain rounded off 2011 with two victories at Wolverhampton and was second to the talented Talwar on his Lingfield return. Butler is uncertain how his charge will handle the rain-sodden ground.
He said: “He’s been cantering on softer ground very well but it’s different when you go racing, so we’ll have to see how he handles it.
“At this stage we’re very much an intended runner, but if the ground deteriorates any more, there’d be a question mark about our participation.
“He ran well at Lingfield and I’ve been very pleased with him since.”
Uriah Heep is an interesting maiden for Sir Michael Stoute.
The Robert Ogden-owned colt was second in a Newbury maiden last month and racing manager Barry Simpson feels conditions should suit.
He said: “He came out of the Newbury race well and Sir Michael has been happy with him at home in the meantime.
“His form is probably not up to the standard of some of the other runners in the field, but we’re hoping for a good run.”
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