Alcohol Free steps back in style to win Newmarket’s July Cup
When Alcohol Free finished in mid-division in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, it seemed possible the attempt to turn Andrew Balding’s Group One-winning miler into a Group One-winning sprinter might be quietly shelved.
But Jeff Smith, Alcohol Free’s owner and breeder, had other ideas and his filly proved to be a very fast learner. The four-year-old was sent off as a 14-1 shot for the July Cup here on Saturday, against a field that included several of the horses that beat her at Ascot and she reversed the form with something to spare.
Naval Crown, a narrow winner of the Platinum Jubilee, set off to make the running and Alcohol Free, settled just behind him by Rob Hornby, looked much more comfortable at sprinting pace than she had three weeks earlier. Naval Crown had no answer when Hornby sent her to the front just over a furlong out, eventually finishing a length and a half behind Alcohol Free with Artorius, third at Ascot, staying on from off the pace to take the same spot here.
Neither Smith nor Andrew Balding were at Newmarket to enjoy her success, but Anna Lisa Balding, the trainer’s wife, said that much of the kudos belonged to the owner.
“Jeff has always said six furlongs is the right trip, so he deserves a lot of credit,” she said. “She’s such a lovely filly, quirky but we all love her. She very rarely disappoints and she’s got a huge heart.”
It was quite a moment too for Hornby, who was still looking for the first Group One winner of his career on Friday morning and perhaps still bruised as well after losing the ride on Westover, third home in the Derby, before the colt’s success in the Irish Derby a fortnight ago.
Less than 48 hours later, Hornby is a dual winner at the highest level, having added to his surprise victory on Prosperous Voyage in Friday’s Falmouth Stakes with another major win at double-figure odds.
“Two Group Ones in two days, who’d have thought it?”, Hornby said. “It’s been a crazy year but I’m in a very privileged position to ride top-class horses.
“The thinking is that in this race, her stamina would kick in up the hill, she’d see it out really well and that’s what happened. The ground started to get quick but it just goes to show her guts and bravery and how tough she is.”
Alcohol Free is now expected to step back up to a mile in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood later this month, a race she won 12 months ago, when the top-class colts Baaeed, unbeaten in eight starts, and Coroebus, the 2,000 Guineas winner, are likely opponents.
Brian Meehan’s Manton stable has been short of a genuine Group One horse for several seasons but the trainer believes he may have found a potential Classic contender in Isaac Shelby, who edged out Victory Dance, the favourite, by a head in the Group Two Superlative Stakes.
This was Meehan’s first Group Two success since Barraquero took the Richmond at Glorious Goodwood nearly five years ago and he sees Isaac Shelby as a “four-race two-year-old” who will have at least one start at Group One level this season.
“He’s the business, I think, he’s really special,” Meehan said. “He could even be a Guineas horse.
“This is high-end stuff here and he’s really proved himself. You take it step-by-step but he’s a horse that’s going to continue to improve, physically there’s still massive improvement there.
“Goodwood would be too soon but Doncaster [for the Champagne Stakes in early September] is definitely a race I’ve thought of, and I love the Breeders’ Cup, so the Juvenile Turf [at Keeneland in November] is going to factor into it as well.”
On a busy day of racing around the country, Anmaat paid a compliment to his trainer, Owen Burrows, by winning the John Smith’s Cup at York, one of the season’s most valuable and competitive handicaps, off a 287-day break.
The 5-1 joint-favourite held on by half a length and a neck from Achelois and Intellogent, who was closest at the finish after struggling for running room at the two-furlong pole.