Andrew Balding believes triple Group One winner Alcohol Free could be “right in the mix” if she lines up in next month’s Darley July Cup at Newmarket’s Moët & Chandon July Festival.
The daughter of No Nay Never, who also holds an entry in the Group One Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes at the three day meeting, is one of 22 remaining entries for the six furlong contest on Saturday 9th July following today’s scratchings deadline. This year the Darley July Cup is worth a record £600,000 and continues to form part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Alcohol Free reverted back to six furlongs in last Saturday’s Group One Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot for the first time since landing the Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes on the Rowley Mile in 2020 on her final start as a two year old.
Having claimed third in the bet365 Mile at Sandown Park on her return in April before finishing fourth in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month over the same trip, Alcohol Free finished a respectable ninth on her return to sprinting at the Royal meeting.
Despite occupying her lowest ever finishing position at the weekend Kingsclere handler Balding believes it was her best run of the season on ground that would not have been ideal, prompting plenty of enthusiasm ahead of a potential Darley July Cup tilt.
He said: “Our thought is that she would be right in the mix in those top six furlong races if the ground is on the slow side. Given the conditions at Ascot on Saturday, it was an amazing run as we know she is that much better on softer ground.
“We felt on Saturday it was her best performance of the season by a country mile. She is happy to run over six and seven furlongs or a mile, but the ground is the deciding factor.
“If there was rain around then the July Cup could be the right race and I think on slower ground she would be right up there.
“She is a triple Group One winner and it is not like we are training a colt to try and preserve his stallion value. We will keep all options open and try and run for top prize money where and when we can.”
Other notable entries in the race which go forward at this stage include the Richard Fahey-trained Perfect Power, who claimed victory in the Group One Commonwealth Cup at the Royal meeting, and Platinum Jubilee Stakes winner and runner-up Naval Crown and Creative Force from the Charlie Appleby yard.
Despite the withdrawal of the Chris Waller-trained pair Nature Strip and Home Affairs and Campanelle from the Wesley Ward stable, there remains plenty of overseas interest in the race.
The Anthony and Sam Freedman trained Artorius, who was third in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes, flies the flag for Australia while Japanese raider King Hermes from the Yoshito Yahagi yard features among the list of entries.
Sacred is likely to step back up in distance after finishing a close-up fifth on her return to action in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes.
Seventh in last season’s 1000 Guineas over a mile, the William Haggas-trained filly successfully reverted to seven furlongs when beating the boys in the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury in August.
Having been off the track since, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned Sacred was set a stiff task on her comeback in Saturday’s six-furlong showpiece, but ran an excellent race to be beaten just a length in a blanket finish.
While where she heads next will depend on underfoot conditions, Cheveley Park’s managing director Chris Richardson considers the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville – a Group One run over six and a half furlongs – as a suitable target.
He said: “It was a fantastic run – we got the ground. It was unusual to have so many runners in the race, which obviously added a different aspect to the way the race unravelled.
“We were delighted with how she ran. I think seven furlongs is probably her optimum trip, but I’m still hopeful that we might get a mile in due course.
“She was once again doing her best running towards the end and where she goes is going to be ground dependent, but you would be looking at the Prix Maurice de Gheest.
“She’s a Group Two winner, so we’ll be looking at the Group Ones over seven furlongs and mile and see how things unravel and what the ground’s like.”
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