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Smith gambles on Alcohol Free’s stamina for International assignment

Owner Jeff Smith feels he has “nothing to lose” by allowing his star filly Alcohol Free to line up for the Juddmonte International at York.

A daughter of American sprinter No Nay Never, Andrew Balding’s charge will take a step into the unknown on the Knavesmire as she tries a mile and a quarter for the first time.

There were doubts about whether the Cheveley Park Stakes winner’s stamina would even last out over a mile earlier in the year – but those have been extinguished by further top-level wins in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

Never one to shirk a challenge, Smith is ready to roll the dice over another two furlongs in Wednesday’s Group One feature – a race he won with 50-1 shot Arabian Queen in 2015. His brilliant colt Chief Singer was third in the 1984 renewal.

“The favourite (St Mark’s Basilica) is out, but it’s still a top-class, Group One race,” said Smith.

“The Juddmonte International is a championship race, so what else would you expect?

“I haven’t seen the filly for a few days, but I’m told she’s absolutely thriving and full of health.”

Although Alcohol Free’s two victories this season have come on easy surface, Smith is unfazed about the prospect of faster conditions at York and admits only time will tell whether the mile and a quarter is within her compass.

He added: “We’re not fussed about the ground – she’ll go on anything.

Owner Jeff Smith (left) after the victory of Alcohol Free at Royal Ascot
Owner Jeff Smith (left) after the victory of Alcohol Free at Royal Ascot (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We have nothing to lose. Either she stays or she doesn’t stay. I’m really relaxed, or as relaxed as one can ever be before a big race.

“There’s no disgrace if she doesn’t stay. If she doesn’t, we’ve simply got the best miler – well, thank you very much!

“She’s got three Group Ones in the bag and proper Group Ones as well.

“It’s going to be interesting.”

The top two in the market are a pair of proven stayers in Mishriff and Love, who renew rivalry after finishing second and third respectively in the King George at Ascot.

John and Thady Gosden’s Mishriff has already enjoyed a hugely-lucrative campaign, having won both the Saudi Cup and the Dubai Sheema Classic earlier in the year before being placed in the Eclipse and the King George.

Gosden senior said: “I was very happy with his King George run. Obviously, what he achieved earlier in the year was considerable, to say the least.

“We’ve very much been targeting the Juddmonte. The slightly extended mile and a quarter, we feel that’s his best trip.

“We’ve been happy with him since the King George. The race has changed a little bit in complexion, but we’re pleased to be going where we planned for a long time.”

Aidan O’Brien had to rule out hot favourite St Mark’s Basilica on Monday morning, but has an able super-sub in the brilliant filly Love.

Love winning last year's Yorkshire Oaks
Love winning last year’s Yorkshire Oaks (David Davies/PA)

The daughter of Galileo won the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks last season and O’Brien feels she is better than she showed at Ascot three and a half weeks ago.

“The King George was a little bit of a mess really. We kind of thought it would be an evenly-run race and it probably wasn’t,” the trainer told Racing TV.

“Ryan (Moore) followed them into the straight and just as he was ready to come out, David (Egan, on Mishriff) came up and cut the head off him. That was more rhythm broken and he just had to wait then.

“She ran on very well and Ryan was very happy with the run. We saw all the things that went wrong for her.

“She came out of the race well and in good form. It will be interesting when she meets the three-year-olds again in a solid run race and see what will happen – she will definitely improve.”

Love is one of two Irish challengers along with the Jim Bolger-trained Mac Swiney.

Since narrowly beating esteemed stablemate Poetic Flare to Classic glory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the son of New Approach has finished fourth in the Derby at Epsom and sixth in the Irish equivalent at the Curragh.

Bolger said: “I won’t be underestimating him, anyway. He’s a very good ‘doer’, so he doesn’t get a lot of time out. In any case, he’s very well, so I’m happy with him.

“We’re hopeful that going back to a mile and a quarter will bring out the best in him.

“As usual, it’s a hot race. York has been a lucky track for me and I’m hoping that the luck will stay with us.”

Mohaafeth winning the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot
Mohaafeth winning the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot (David Davies/PA)

William Haggas saddles two Royal Ascot winners in Mohaafeth and Alenquer. Mohaafeth lost his unbeaten record for the season when third in the York Stakes on his latest outing, while Alenquer was last seen occupying the same finishing position in the Grand Prix de Paris.

Reflecting on Mohaafeth’s last visit to York, Haggas said: “It was a balls up, from start to finish.

“The pacemaker went too slow and Jim (Crowley) was too far back. It was a mess, and you can put a line through it.

“Angus (Gold, of owners Shadwell) felt that if you ignore that run and concentrated on the good bits, he was well worth a chance here.

“The trip is fine and the ground should be OK, too. He’s got a bit to find, but he’s useful.”

Alenquer after winning the King Edward VII Stakes
Alenquer after winning the King Edward VII Stakes (Steven Paston/PA)

Alenquer was priced up as ante-post favourite for the Great Voltigeur Stakes, but connections have opted to instead bid for top-level honours in the Juddmonte.

“The owners felt that as he had already won a Group Two there was no point running in another one. They want to test him against the best, and he’s very well,” Haggas added, ahead of another leg in the Qipco British Champions Series.

“He’s improving, and again you can put a line through his latest run at Longchamp as he was way too far back and never got into it at all.

“I don’t think he’s the soft or heavy ground horse that some have him down as, but he might just want a bit further. He’s not a bad horse.

“It’s an ambitious route for both horses, but they’ll both run a good race. Whether they are good enough is another matter.”

Monday Musings: Smith still having all the laughs

Thirty-eight years ago Littleton Stud owner Jeff Smith was at Royal Ascot to watch 10,000gns bargain yearling buy Chief Singer make his debut in the Coventry Stakes, the most important two-year-old race at the Royal meeting, writes Tony Stafford.

Trained by Ron Sheather, Chief Singer, a giant at 16.3hh, stood out in the field of more conventionally sized juveniles. This was so much the case that before the start Lester Piggott took time out to talk to Ray Cochrane, rider of the Smith horse.

Piggott was disparagingly dismissive about the colt to which Cochrane replied: “Have a good look at his face as that’s the last time you will. All you will see at the finish is his backside!”

Chief Singer, 20-1, duly bolted up by four lengths. The following year, Chief Singer was the only horse to give El Gran Senor a race in the 2,000 Guineas and he followed that performance with consecutive victories in the St James’s Palace by eight lengths, back to six furlongs for an easy victory in the July Cup at Newmarket, and he then completed the hat-trick in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

That proved to be his final win as his temperament got the better of him and he was sold in a £4 million deal to go to stud. Smith had been the owner of Littleton Stud in Hampshire since 1976 and unfortunately as the Racing Post only began publication in 1988 any winners before that have been difficult to access.
What I can say without fear of contradiction though is that the ever-suffering Arsenal fan, Jockey Club member (since 2009) and Chairman of his local Salisbury racecourse for a year longer, has enjoyed winners every season (mostly home-breds) since 1988 with Group 1 triumphs liberally sprinkled along the way.

You couldn’t ever describe the always genial Smith as a small owner-breeder, but he does have much more interest in breeding winners for himself than producing horses for others to benefit from.

In those 34 seasons I make it 485 wins for Smith with trainers like David Elsworth, especially, Ian and now Andrew Balding, James Eustace, (recently retired in favour of his son Harry) and Ralph Beckett. No doubt Jeff, who made his money designing and providing internal fittings for aircraft, will have a figure way above 500 as his personal measure.
The reason for all the attention to Jeff Smith at this stage of the season is partly the result of yesterday’s running of the Group 1 Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville together with the prospect of next Wednesday’s Juddmonte International at York.

In gaining a second successive Jacques Le Marois, the Gosdens’ Palace Pier needed to see off a sustained challenge by the 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace hero, Poetic Flare. John Gosden suggested his colt had been only at around 80 per cent efficiency but form advocates would be more inclined to take the result at face value; Palace Pier (rated 125 officially) having a neck to spare over 122-rated Poetic Flare, trained and bred by Jim Bolger. Third, just under two lengths back, was the Aidan O’Brien-trained Order of Australia, a winner at the Breeders’ Cup last year.

The Jeff Smith interest here is plain. Poetic Flare, who has danced every dance this year, was gallant all the way to the line at Deauville, as he had been in his previous start in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood last month. The ground was easier there and Una Manning, daughter of Bolger, suggested obliquely by saying yesterday’s ground was perfect, implying that Poetic Flare hadn’t been entirely comfortable in the Sussex Stakes.

But it would be hard to discern too much difference in Poetic Flare’s finishing effort there or anywhere else in his busy 2021 campaign. And whose colours finished ahead of Poetic Flare? None other than Jeff Smith’s.

In a year of many top-class three-year-old fillies – cite Aidan O’Brien’s quintet of Group/Grade 1 winning fillies from the Classic generation of 2021) - Alcohol Free, trained by Andrew Balding, is one of the best having won not just the Sussex Stakes but also, against her own sex, the Coronation Stakes at Ascot. In between she was a fast-finishing, unlucky-in-running, third to old rival Snow Lantern in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and earlier a close fifth in the 1,000 Guineas to Mother Earth as joint-favourite in deference to her Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes victory last year.

On Wednesday, she has a real giant-killer’s task in the Juddmonte International, not least because she is stepping up to ten furlongs, but also as she has to overcome St Mark’ Basilica. When the Aidan O’Brien colt added the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown last month to the two facile wins in the French 2,000 Guineas (Poule d’Essai des Poulains) and French Derby (Prix du Jockey-Club) he was awarded a European-high rating of 127 by the BHB’s handicappers.

That figure has since been matched by Godolphin’s Derby winner Adayar after his emphatic performance in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. In Wednesday’s feature, Mishriff, the globe-trotting and highest-earning horse trained in Europe, stands clearly second-highest rated on 124.

Mishriff, trained by John and Thady Gosden, earned a combined near £10 million for his Middle Eastern exploits in his owner Prince AA Faisal’s native Saudi Arabia (£7.5million), and Dubai (£2.3 million), at the end of last winter. He was reckoned a shade short of peak (that old Gosden chestnut!) when third and comfortably outpaced behind St Mark’s Basilica at Sandown but was probably more the finished article when runner-up in the King George.

So where does that leave Alcohol Free, rated 119? For one thing she comes into Wednesday’s race as an inmate of the stable that leads the trainers’ rankings in the UK. In recent seasons top place has invariably meant John Gosden or Aidan O’Brien. Two years ago Balding set his record earnings of more than £3.6 million from 124 wins. So far in 2021 his 106 wins have yielded stakes of £3.036 million, so he is firmly on target to beat both figures.

That 2019 Balding tally was some way less than half the earnings of the front two, with John Gosden at £7.91 million (192 victories) exceeding runner-up O’Brien’s £7.68 million from his 13 top-class winners by barely £230,000.
Now though, Gosden has made little impact with the Classic generation in his first year’s partnership with son Thaddeus and is languishing down at number six (81 wins and in his case a paltry £2.117 million). They trail Charlie Appleby and Godolphin (64 and £2.731 million); O’Brien (eight wins and £2.337 million); Mark Johnston (148 and £2.283 million) and Richard Hannon (101 and £2.143 million).

What that sextet has in common (although obviously O’Brien campaigns by far the greatest proportion of his team at home) is they all have strings exceeding 200. Size matters in racing these days, as indeed it probably always has done.

It will be difficult for Balding to hold on especially from Charlie Appleby who has not just the Derby winners, Adayar and Hurricane Lane (Irish, and also six-length winner of the Grand Prix De Paris), but also a host of horses primed to win Group and Listed races for the rest of the year when the two-year-olds will come increasingly on stream.

In the younger division, Balding can point to Berkshire Shadow and the unbeaten filly Sandrine as potential major earners for the rest of the season. For a trainer whose father Ian trained the great Mill Reef, one of the outstanding thoroughbreds of the Post War era, his now being firmly in the top echelon of his profession must be highly satisfying, the more so with his father and mother Emma still around at Kingsclere to enjoy it. Like Appleby, Andrew is modest about his achievements.

For Jeff Smith, the Juddmonte might not have been the obvious next step apart from the fact that the race holds a special place in his racing experience. Six years ago, the hitherto-unbeaten Golden Horn, winner latterly of the Derby and Eclipse Stakes for John Gosden and Anthony Oppenheimer, took a 130-rating into the Juddmonte.

Languishing on a mark a full 21lb lower, although she was getting the 3lb filly allowance in the York race, was the David Elsworth-trained Dubawi filly Arabian Queen, a daughter of Smith’s hard-working mare Barshiba. Nobody but Elsworth would have asked such a question of the Group 3 winner, but the veteran trainer had the first, last and all the laughs in between as Smith’s 50-1 outsider ran down the Frankie Dettori-ridden 9-4 on favourite in the last 50 yards. Golden Horn went on to win two more Group 1 races and was only narrowly beaten by Found in the Breeders’ Cup in his final race and second defeat.

For all his success over almost 40 years, Jeff Smith can be forgiven for telling his local newspaper in an interview last autumn that the Cheveley Park Stakes win for Alcohol Free had been his happiest moment in racing.

There have been two more great triumphs since for her and victory on Wednesday would no doubt put the cherry on the cake. But then you realise Jeff amazingly has owned three Racehorses of the Year in Chief Singer, his fabulous sprint filly Lochsong (Ian Balding), which he also bred, and the popular staying Flat-racer Persian Punch.

Over eight seasons in 63 races for David Elsworth, Punch won 20 races, 16 at Stakes (Group and Listed) level and never knew when he was beaten, much in the manner of his trainer. Persian Punch ranks alongside the great steeplechaser Desert Orchid as two undoubted horses of a lifetime for Elsworth.

I’d love Alcohol Free to win, but I hold with my belief that St Mark’s Basilica is a great champion. I also hope to see Snowfall put in another domineering performance after her Oaks and Irish Oaks cakewalks in the manner of Love last year in the Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday. Exciting days ahead - I wish I could be there, but it will have to be next year!

Smith so proud of ‘champion’ Alcohol Free

As perfectly illustrated by Euro 2020 and the Olympics, sport moves in cycles.

Injury might preclude one from team selection, a below-par showing might deny one of a medal, but often, all in good time, the opportunity is presented again somewhere along the line.

Only in the sport of horse racing, however, can one man triumph in the same event either side of a 37-year gap.

That man is Jeff Smith, chairman of Salisbury racecourse and long-standing racehorse owner.

It was in 1984 that Smith’s dark brown colt Chief Singer emerged the victor after a roughly-run renewal of Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes.

Clad in Smith’s purple and pale blue colours, the horse was riding the crest of a wave having also won the St James’s Palace Stakes and the July Cup.

Jeff Smith (far left) after Alcohol Free's Coronation Stakes win
Jeff Smith (far left) after Alcohol Free’s Coronation Stakes win (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The same is true of his 2021 runner Alcohol Free, who won the Fred Darling and the Coronation Stakes before being narrowly beaten by Snow Lantern in the Falmouth.

The Sussex Stakes is a different proposition to those contests, of course, with colts very much on the scene and no upper limit on the age of contenders.

Those conditions pitched Alcohol Free alongside her most esteemed rivals to date, the chief threat amongst them being Jim Bolger’s 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace winner Poetic Flare.

Alcohol Free is famously restless, and while Poetic Flare strode calmly at the side of his one handler, Andrew Balding’s filly strained against the two staff tasked with guiding her around the parade ring.

Oisin Murphy celebrates aboard Alcohol Free
Oisin Murphy celebrates aboard Alcohol Free (John Walton/PA)

Sent to post in a tell-tale red hood, the devil horns associated with racing’s tricky customers, she put her raucousness to good use as she scrapped from the rear of the field to the front, eyeballing Poetic Flare at the furlong pole and then pulling away happily under Oisin Murphy.

A tearful Smith and an elated Balding gathered to meet them in the paddock, where she stood so placidly in a large, braying crowd that one might conclude all of her pre-race mischievousness is produced purely for dramatic effect.

“This filly is something else, the way she has won that is simply incredible,” said Smith, whose Persian Punch and Lochsong have also famously graced the Goodwood winner’s enclosure.

“I’m just thrilled to pieces, what a wonderful job Andrew and the whole team have done.

“Providing she got cover and something to aim at, then I felt, not confident, but I felt very hopeful.

“Then she was bumped around and pushed back and I thought ‘oh bloody hell, I’m not so sure’.

Alcohol Free returns to the winner's enclosure
Alcohol Free returns to the winner’s enclosure (John Walton/PA)

“But the way she picked back up, she showed what she really is.

“She’s a champion, there’s absolutely no question in my mind, she’s the real deal.”

Asked about Chief Singer, who led him to the exact same spot in the Goodwood winner’s enclosure in 1984, the owner said: “Well it was 37 years ago, I had jet black hair and no worries in the world and I thought it was all very easy, I’d just come back and do it again.”

Now he has, under no illusions as to how hard Group One winners are to come by and how rare it is to find a filly that can shrug off top-class colts with such ease.

It is difficult, as evidenced by a Sussex Stakes roll of honour almost exclusively made up of colts, but you would be hard pressed to convince Alcohol Free of that fact.

It looks like being a clash with the colts next, too, for Alcohol Free – in a race that will present a test of a different kind, namely distance.

Balding explained: “It was Jeff Smith’s idea in the first place, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea, to put her in the (Juddmonte) International at York and we decided to keep her in at yesterday’s forfeit stage.

“It might be asking a bit much, going a mile and a quarter, but she’s a filly that has won three Group One races, so we have very little to lose.

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll regroup and go back to the mile race on Champions Day.”