Alcohol Free passes distance test in Fred Darling

Alcohol Free booked her Qipco 1000 Guineas ticket as she narrowly came out on top from Statement in a tight finish to the Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Newbury.

Andrew Balding’s filly was the only Group One winner in the race better known as the Fred Darling, and as a result she was sent off the 9-4 favourite.

Caught wide and with no cover through most of the seven-furlong contest, Oisin Murphy brought his mount through to take up the running over a furlong out and it all looked to be going to plan.

However, Alcohol Free began to hang slightly, making Murphy’s task harder, and to compound matters Statement had burst out of the pack to throw down her challenge.

Statement would not go away, but the Jeff Smith-owned Cheveley Park winner held on by a determined short head. Two outsiders took minor honours, with the Charlie Fellowes-trained Vadream coming from almost last into third and Ed Walker’s 100-1 chance Primo Bacio fourth.

“We’ve said for the last week if she just ran a nice race and finished placed and showed us that she’d trained we’d be happy, as she hasn’t done a huge amount of work,” said a delighted Balding.

“So it was very pleasing to see her win like that. She stayed the seven furlongs well and it wasn’t easy for her caught on the wing. She settled well and Oisin has given her a lovely ride. Oisin seems pretty confident she’ll stay a mile.

“The idea was that this was a stepping-stone to the Guineas – I think she only got one flick behind the saddle as it wouldn’t have been ideal if she had a hard race.

“She’s been slow coming in her coat and I haven’t done much with her, which is why we weren’t really expecting to win. But this is really encouraging because we know she’s still got it, stayed seven well and Oisin said she was beautifully settled so the 1000 Guineas is definitely the plan.”

The winner was cut to 10-1 from 12s for the Classic by Betfair, while the runner-up is 20-1 from 66s.

Alcohol Free takes Classic test in Fred Darling

Alcohol Free puts her Classic credentials on the line as she returns in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Newbury.

Andrew Balding’s charge won the Cheveley Park Stakes on her final juvenile outing, giving her owner Jeff Smith a first Group One win since Arabian Queen sprang a 50-1 shock in the 2015 Juddmonte International.

David Bowe is general manager of Smith’s Littleton Stud, and the team there are excited to take the wraps off their flagship horse for the 2021 campaign on Sunday, in a race registered as the Fred Darling Stakes.

Oisin Murphy will be on board again at Newbury
Oisin Murphy will be on board again at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He said: “We are certainly looking forward to getting started for the year, and it looks like she has trained on.

“She came back to Littleton for her winter break, and then we sent her back to Andrew after Christmas, and he has been pleased with her since.

“I think she will stay the seven furlongs, but we will find out much more in regards to her trip on Sunday.

“Oisin (Murphy) has been to ride her. He was very happy with her, and Andrew is confident she has trained on.”

Jeff Smith with homebred sprint sensation Lochsong in 1992
Jeff Smith with homebred sprint sensation Lochsong in 1992 (Rebecca Naden/PA)

Smith is famed for his homebred stars such as Lochsong, Dashing Blade and Arabian Queen – but Alcohol Free is a rare purchase for the owner, having been bought by Bowe for 40,000 euros as a foal back in November 2018.

Bowe added: “There’s always a certain amount of luck involved with these things, but I’m delighted it has worked out so well and that she has turned out to be a good one for Jeff.

“With Jeff being an owner-breeder, you know these kind of fillies will be coming back into the fold when they have finished racing.

“We’re not short of black-type calibre mares here by any means – but as we bought her, she brings a different bloodline. She a very nice filly, though – she has a Group One win and she will let down into a lovely broodmare when the time comes.”

Happy Romance came out on top at Salisbury
Happy Romance came out on top at Salisbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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Alcohol Free will face some familiar rivals in a 17-strong field, with Cheveley Park third Umm Kulthum in opposition, but none more so than the Richard Hannon-trained Happy Romance.

The duo have clashed twice previously, with Happy Romance coming out on top in the Dick Poole Stakes – one of her four juvenile wins – before Alcohol Free reversed the form when beating her old rival into fourth in the Cheveley Park.

“She won the Super Sprint, then she went to the York sales race and won another fortune and then to the Group Three at Salisbury,” Hannon told Sky Sports Racing.

“I do think she’s slightly under-appreciated in terms of what she has achieved – that was an awful lot to achieve in one year.

“She was never a two-year-old for me. I always thought she was a big girl who is going to make a nice three-year-old -and hopefully make a miler.

“I think she’ll be better for going further and I think she’s improved from two to three. She’s a tough filly and she’s very happy.”

Dandalla impressed with victory in the Albany at Royal Ascot
Dandalla impressed with victory in the Albany at Royal Ascot (Julian Finney/PA)

Dandalla is another to renew rivalry with Alcohol Free, having suffered her only defeat in four juvenile starts when beaten just over five lengths in fifth at Newmarket.

Karl Burke’s filly had previously landed the Albany at Royal Ascot in impressive style before just holding on in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket, with her North Yorkshire-based trainer admitting the daughter of Dandy Man was not at her best in the second half of the campaign.

He is also aware that switching up to seven furlongs for the first time is a learning curve, although he has full faith in Dandalla’s stamina.

Burke said: “She’s been ready to run for a couple of weeks now and is getting a bit bored going up and down the gallops.

“We’re very much looking forward to running her. She looks fit and well and great in her skin, actually.

“It’s a trial and it’s a trial for us on trip as much as anything. I personally think she’ll get seven furlongs stood on her head, and it’s a question of whether she’ll get a bit further or not.

“In her work at home, she’s definitely not slow. The options are there, and we’ll know after Sunday whether to drop her back to six or whether we should give her a go over a mile.”

He added: “After Royal Ascot, she was never really moving as well as she had been beforehand. We were always behind the black ball a little bit.

“She had a good rest after the Cheveley Park and has been moving brilliantly all spring.

“We couldn’t be happier with her really, and I expect her to run very well.”

Isabella Giles won the Rockfel at Newmarket in fine style
Isabella Giles won the Rockfel at Newmarket in fine style (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Isabella Giles has already won twice over seven furlongs, claiming the Group Three Prestige at Goodwood before adding the Group Two Rockfel at Newmarket to her CV.

However, the daughter of Belardo failed to sparkle on her final outing, with trainer Clive Cox believing her lacklustre ninth place was down to the effects of a busy campaign after six runs in total.

He said: “She’s wintered really well, and we’ve had a good prep with her. She’s improved physically, as you would expect from two to three, and her work’s been very pleasing.

“I think we can excuse her the run in the Fillies’ Mile after a busy enough season. I hope we can step back into a positive performance this weekend, because all her other performances were rock solid.

“We’ll take it a step at a time, but I’m very pleased that we’re coming here with a filly that seems to be in good form.”

John and Thady Gosden will field two contenders
John and Thady Gosden will field two contenders (Edward Whitaker/PA)

John and Thady Gosden are double-handed, with all-weather winners Miss Finland and Wild Iris taking a huge leap in class.

Gosden said: “One has run twice and the other only ran once.

“They are there to learn, just to get them going, get them out.

“The aim is to find out whether you’ve got a nice one, and you (sometimes) find out you probably haven’t, but it’s all educational stuff for them.”

The Roger Varian-trained Zaajirah won on her only start for Roger Varian last year, taking a Kempton novice event, with owners Shadwell’s racing manager Angus Gold curious to see how she fares in much better company.

Gold said: “She won well on her only start and has been pleasing them with her work.

“When they’ve won a maiden, you don’t know where you are – but she looks a nice, progressive filly in her homework.

“She obviously lacks experience, but she hasn’t done anything wrong so far, so let’s see where she fits in.”

Alcohol Free and Happy Romance set for Newbury battle

Alcohol Free and Happy Romance are set to clash for a third time in Sunday’s Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Newbury.

The score stands at one victory apiece, with Richard Hannon’s Happy Romance coming out on top in the Dick Poole at Salisbury before Andrew Balding’s Alcohol Free turned the tables in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.

The pair appear among 23 entries for the Group Three, registered as the Fred Darling and a recognised trial for the 1000 Guineas.

“We’ve given her an entry in the Fred Darling at Newbury on Sunday and at this stage that is very much an option,” said Balding of his Group One winner.

“Ideally we were keen to have a run, particularly because we’d be asking her to go a mile first time out if we went straight for the Guineas.

“We just think we’d be better placed if she’d had a run.

“It’s not the be-all and end-all, but the intention is to try to run on Sunday.”

Hannon is confident his filly can improve on a lucrative juvenile season and has no doubts about her stepping up in trip.

“She was just on the wrong part of the track, she had to come a bit wide and the winner slightly had the run of the race (in the Cheveley Park),” he said.

“I’ve been very happy with her work and, for me, she was never just a two-year-old. I know she had a busy season, but hopefully she can do better this year because she’s grown and she’s done very well.

“We’ve been very pleased with her work and I think she’ll get a mile no problem. I know it’s seven this weekend, but I think she’ll end up over a mile without any issues.

“She’s very relaxed and settles well.”

Royal Ascot winner Dandalla, the Clive Cox-trained Isabella Giles and Richard Fahey’s Umm Kulthum are all in the mix.

Balding stays patient with Alcohol Free

Andrew Balding is waiting for Alcohol Free to shed her winter coat so he can give his Cheveley Park Stakes heroine a prep run before the Qipco 1000 Guineas.

The Kingsclere trainer believes having a race before the fillies’ Classic on May 2 will help her relax on the big day.

The ideal race would be the Group Three Dubai Duty Free Stakes, registered as the Fred Darling Stakes, over seven furlongs at Newbury on April 17.

“I’m delighted with her – the only problem is she’s still wearing her winter collection at the moment,” Balding told Sky Sports Racing.

“I’m just hoping the coat starts to shift – which it should do, with the weather we’ve got forecast over the next week.

“I’d hope to see a change in that, but she’s been showing all her usual ability in her work.

“She’s done two fast pieces of work, and I’m really pleased where we’re at in terms of her fitness levels and well-being – apart from the coat being a bit woolly.”

Balding accepts he may yet have to revert to Plan B, and head straight to Newmarket with Alcohol Free.

“The plan was to run in the Fred Darling as a prep for the Guineas,” he added.

“I think it’s important with her to hopefully have a run before going a mile – but if she’s not ready in time we’ll go straight to Newmarket.

“That has always been the plan, and she relaxes so well – certainly at home.

“It gives her a chance of getting a mile, but if we can get a race in as a prep to make sure she does settle that would be to her advantage.”

Alcohol Free sparks Cheveley Park celebrations

Alcohol Free prevailed in a tight finish for the Group One Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Andrew Balding’s filly was less exposed than most of her rivals in the six-furlong prize, but Oisin Murphy gave her a positive ride.

The champion jockey was happy to take up the running from favourite Miss Amulet at half way and she was there to be shot at running up the hill.

The previously unbeaten Dandalla moved into contention briefly, but her challenge petered away and it was Richard Fahey’s Umm Kulthum, a winner at Ayr last weekend, and Ken Condon’s Miss Amulet who gave Alcohol Free the most to do.

Despite having just the third run of her life, Alcohol Free showed a willing attitude and while Umm Kulthum challenged on her far side and Miss Amulet on her inside, Alcohol Free, a sustained late gamble, won by half a length and a head.

The winner was given a 20-1 quote for next year’s 1000 Guineas by Betfair.

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Alcohol Free had finished second behind Happy Romance last time out, but turned that form around with Richard Hannon’s filly who was only fourth this time.

“She didn’t have a great draw at Salisbury and she showed a bit of inexperience and we knew she would come on for that,” said Balding.

“At the end of the day, Happy Romance was likely to be one of the favourites and we only had a couple of lengths to find on her. We had the option to run in the Rockfel, but Jeff (Smith, owner) was keen on going for the Group One and he was dead right.

“She has been on a fast track really, as she only started faster work about three weeks before she ran and we went to the races not knowing quite what to expect as she was the first two-year-old filly we had run.

“She won very easily there (Newbury) and the next logical step was to go for the Dick Poole and she showed enough there to warrant coming here.

“She should stay (a mile) I would have thought. She relaxes well. She acts better with a bit of cover. Oisin was intent that he couldn’t see any pace in the race and he didn’t want to be too far back.

“I’m well past giving him instructions. He did a fantastic job. Just for the yard, it is fantastic, as Jeff has been with us a long time, with dad (Ian Balding) and he has been a big supporter of ours, so it is great to get him a Group One winner again.

“She won’t run again this year. We will see how she does in the spring and we will make a decision nearer the time (whether she runs in a trial). She is obviously good enough to go (to the Guineas), so we don’t need to go to a trial to find out – it’s just whether she would benefit for a run in the spring.”

Oisin Murphy celebrates Alcohol Free's victory
Oisin Murphy celebrates Alcohol Free’s victory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Murphy added: “Andrew has done a top job with her because he’s had to carefully manage her training regime. She’s very generous at home and he’s kept a lid on her.

“It’s brilliant for the owner and brilliant for the stable. We’ve a class of horse in the yard at the moment that we’ve never had before.

“She’s a Group One winner now and certainly fits into the 1000 Guineas category for next year because she hits the line well and she also relaxes. She’s a super filly.

“I don’t win enough Group Ones for Andrew and he’s supplied me with two this year. Hopefully we can continue to add to the tally.”