O'Brien's Ernest hope for Dante
FOLLOWING yesterday's reversal in the Musidora Stakes at York, Aidan O'Brien tries his hand at the colts' Derby trial, the Dante Stakes, with a horse that seems destined to make an imprint -- Ernest Hemingway.
It is possible that O'Brien is sending Ernest Hemingway over largely as a "sighter" on behalf of Camelot and others, but this 10-length Dundalk maiden winner should adore the long straight.
However, the home team's hopes are high and favourite Bonfire leads the defence of this Group 2 contest. An impressive winner at Salisbury on debut, Bonfire was then a luckless third in the Group One Criterium International and, having wintered well, it was the desperate ground at Chester that persuaded Andrew Balding to run here.
As ever, the relative improvement available to lightly raced three-year-olds makes the Dante a particularly hazardous betting medium.
Bonfire and Mandaean at least showed elite calibre when fast-tracked to Group One company at two, but the Godolphin three-year-olds have been performing too unevenly for anyone to know what to expect of their French import; while advance publicity has rendered Bonfire dubious value.
John Gosden -- the man who thwarted O'Brien in yesterday's Musidora -- saddles Fencing, which brings Classic form to the table having finished six lengths behind Camelot when sixth in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
O'Brien's rivals must accept the possibility that even the third or fourth Derby colt at Ballydoyle could be better than their outstanding three-year-old.
Neutrals will hope for a fresh theme in the Classic picture -- whether through the promotion of Mickael Barzalona to ride Mandaean or the emergence of a genuine Derby colt at Balding's base.
The major supporting race to the Dante is the Middleton Stakes, which has been claimed by multiple Group One-winning mares Sariska and Midday for the last two years.
There does not appear to be anything of that calibre in this season's renewal, but one with stronger claims than most is Saeed bin Suroor's Sajjhaa.
The five-year-old was a three-time winner for Michael Jarvis in 2010, signing off with a Group Three win in Italy. She made her Godolphin debut in this race last year and was far from disgraced in finishing second to Midday.
Sajjhaa again showed her liking for the Knavesmire when winning a Listed prize here last year, but bombed out on her final start of the year at Haydock.
She makes her seasonal return off the back of that disappointing run, but hopefully the break will have done her good. The only filly in the field rated higher than her is Timepiece, which she beat in this last year.