Bonfire out to Eclipse his elders

British trained three year olds are having a tough time of it this season when it comes to the top races. The winners of the four Classics run so far have all come from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable, and that’s left the stables here empty of any star names in that group.

The next opportunity for one of them to make their mark comes in the Coral-Eclipse on Saturday, the first Group race in the calendar in which they can take on older horses. Not many do, despite three-year-old horses receiving an 11lb weight allowance from their seniors, a concession that has helped them win the race four times in the past 12 renewals. This year’s race has just three entries from the younger crop, including O’Brien’s Daddy Long Legs. Representing the home yards are Brian Meehan’s Cogito and Andrew Balding’s Bonfire. Can either of them restore the pride in our Classic generation?

Balding and his team certainly think Bonfire can. The horse was a convincing winner of the Dante at York in the Spring, but disappointed in the Derby, finishing in sixth place, despite going off as second favourite. Some people thought that Bonfire lost that race before the start, as he was sweating up after the pony that went down to the start with him became stirred up.

Balding, though, doesn’t agree. He said, “He just didn’t operate at Epsom. Jimmy Fortune got off and said it was like riding a two year old.”

Harry Herbert, racing manager for Bonfire’s owners, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, expanded on Balding’s view. He said, “It was the track which did for him at Epsom. He went from travelling to not travelling as soon as he hit Tattenham Corner and that was it.”

Certainly both are looking forward to the challenge of taking on the older horses. Haynes said, “After Epsom we had a couple of options but we felt that this track and trip would really suit Bonfire and if it comes up soft, we’ll perhaps handle those condition better than others might. It’s going to be a good Eclipse and Andrew is absolutely buzzing about our chances.”

The trainer reflected on how his colt had come out of Epsom, saying, “We were a little bit worried as he didn’t run his race at Epsom and I was a bit worried he might be sore coming back, but he came out of it very will and we’ve been delighted with him since. I think we’ll have him as good as we can get him for Saturday.”