Smith so proud of ‘champion’ Alcohol Free

Alcohol Free crossing the winner under Oisin Murphy (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)
17:45pm, Wed 28 Jul 2021
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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 (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

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 (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)

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 (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)

“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.

If it doesn't work, we'll regroup and go back to the mile race on Champions Day

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.”

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