Jockey Rob Hornby has enjoyed a Moët & Chandon July Festival like no other as today he partnered Alcohol Free (14-1) to victory in the feature £600,000 Group One Darley July Cup (6f) – just 24 hours after his success aboard Prosperous Voyage in the three-day meeting’s other Group One contest, the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes. Both races are part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
The 27 year old becomes the first jockey to win both Group One races in the same season since Johnny Murtagh in 2004. It was a first success in the premier sprint contest for trainer Andrew Balding and a second for owner Jeff Smith – 38 years after his first with Chief Singer in 1984.
Alcohol Free has now won four times at Group One level. Her first came as a juvenile in the 2020 Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes (6f) at Newmarket while in 2021 the now four year old daughter of No Nay Never took in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. After her first two starts over a mile in 2022, she had reverted to sprinting on her last start when ninth (beaten under three lengths) in the Group One Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot last month.
Drawn closest to the far side rail in stall 14, Alcohol Free raced on the heels of the leader as Platinum Jubilee Stakes winner Naval Crown (4-1) set the pace. Entering the final furlong, Alcohol Free made her challenge and overhauled the gallant Naval Crown to go on and win by a length and a half in a fast time of 1m 9.47s. Australian challenger Artorius (8-1), who dwelt at the start, stayed on well from off the pace to take third, a further half-length away.
Rob Hornby said: “We always considered and looked into it (the 6f trip) having run over a mile. She has got plenty of speed and she naturally travels really well - then her stamina can kick in and she hits the rising ground well. It just goes to show her guts, bravery and how tough she is because she has form on every bit of ground now. It is just crazy.
“Who would have thought it (winning two Group Ones in two days). It has been a crazy year and I’m privileged to ride these best horses in the best races. There are so many people that have got me here and they still will.
“She ran a good race at Ascot. Coming back to six furlongs we were unsure if the ground was a bit quick. She was a bit unorganised in the first half of the race which she can sometimes do. I just had to let her organise herself. From half way I felt her really kick in. She had a real fire in her belly today. She hit the rising ground well and she stays the six strongly. I’m so grateful. It is a hell of a training performance from Andrew and everyone back at Park House. She is a fiery character and she has got a lot of personality.
“There are a lot of people who have to manage her along the way. I’m the only jockey that had ridden her before today not to have won on her. I knew her as a two year old and the opportunity arose this year that I’d ride her. I ride her a lot at home in her gallops.
“It was one of those races when we were beat at Sandown as favourite and you come in thinking maybe she is not quite where she was last year. We’ve tweaked things and she has always shown lots of natural speed but with stamina as well. To do it in such an impressive way in a high class field like that is just fantastic. And for Mr Smith she is going to have a long and exciting breeding career. It is so good to see these colours in these huge races that they have been so many years and we look forward to it continuing.
“It is a great call to come back to six furlongs and she has always shown plenty of speed and like I say she has got the stamina as well. She really deserved to go and do that and that is why she stayed in training. She won that really well today.
“I went down to Park House Stables when I was 16 straight from school and it is nearly 11 years that association has been going. I can’t thank the whole Balding family enough as it is such a pleasant community down there. I went down there at 16 and it doesn’t feel like it is a job. I was just living the dream. Andrew has given me so many opportunities and legs up and this is where all jockeys want to be competing. I was always confident I had gone to the right place as a young jockey.
“To still be associated with the place and riding for such a powerful yard along with other trainers I ride for and work with is fantastic. They will be absolutely buzzing back at the yard as she is a special horse back at the yard.
“It means everything really. Everyone says this is why we all do it and it genuinely is. To get the opportunity is one thing then to win or do your best is another thing. For that to have gone the way it has done today and yesterday for two very significant people in my riding career is so important for any jockey’s riding career, let alone my own, I’m honoured, pleased and thankful.
“To have Group One rides in two days is on fantastic especially when it is on one as brave as Alcohol Free who is now a four times Group One winner. These rides are just huge to get and I’m very privileged. It won’t be an Alcohol Free weekend!”
Andrew Balding said: “We’re absolutely over the moon and she’s now won four Group Ones - one at two, two at three and one at four – which is a very unusual feat and they’re not Mickey Mouse Group One races either. They’re proper races and we’re very proud of her and I’m just delighted for the whole team and Rob Hornby and Jeff as well. It’s a special day.
“We needed to run somewhere between (Ascot and Goodwood) really. The Sussex Stakes has always been her main target having won the race last year and we were just trying to find the best plan to get her there. We felt that she showed enough back to sprinting last time to be competitive in the July Cup and she certainly was. She’s a very talented filly and this is her time of year as well, she’s twice the horse she was in the spring and it’s just lovely to have her back on song.
“I do think she’ll go to the Sussex Stakes next as it has always been the plan. She won it last year and the test of the mile there suits her really well. She’s obviously a speed miler rather than an attritional miler so Goodwood should suit her really well and we look forward to it.
“We’ve had a frustrating season and have had more seconds than you could care to wish for, so moments like this makes up for everything.”
Trainer Charlie Appleby said of runner-up Naval Crown: “I was pleased with the pair of them (he also saddled fourth Creative Force).
“Naval Crown has run a rock-solid race. The plan with him was to go and be forward. He set a good clip there and it was only the filly that has come and dived on us late. It was another solid performance at that level as well, and at sprinting more importantly. I think going forward we will probably head towards Haydock with him as the ground doesn’t worry him at all. He has shown today that he has got a lot of natural pace there so it was another big run.
“We were pleased how Creative Force was travelling but it was just too quick for him and he couldn’t let himself down on it so the upshot is we will very much work back from Champions Day and wait for the ground with him.”
Australian trainer Sam Freedman, who is responsible for third-placed Artorius along with his father Anthony, said: “Frustrating is the wrong word because he always runs very well and a frustrating horse is probably one who mixes his form.
“He’s very honest and reliable in the sense he’s always finishing his races off and the 1300m (six and a half furlongs) for his next target would suit him nicely.
“I’ve really enjoyed our time here, it’s been a good month and we go home tomorrow.
“He ran exactly as we expected. He needs them to come back to him a little bit and today it’s probably not been the easiest thing to do to make up ground. He’s run right up to his form and finished right alongside the two from Ascot, beating one of them, so the form seems to have held up. Hopefully if we look for something over 1300m he can be a little bit more in his comfort zone. We’re not disappointed at all, he just hasn’t won so of course I’m disappointed”
WHAT THE BEATEN JOCKEYS SAID
Jamie Spencer, Artorius, Third (8-1)
“It’s a credible run. Personally I’d hope he’ll have another run in Europe, I think they mentioned the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs. With the way he’s finished both of his races, he’d have won both with an extra half a furlong. It gives you hope but we’ll see.”
William Buick, Creative Force, Fourth (9-2)
“He’s run very well”
Jack Mitchell, Double Or Bubble, Fifth (28-1) said: “I got a lovely tow through and she was actually outpaced early on. I left her alone and let her find her own rhythm.
“I think if she was drawn the other side the horses could have taken us a bit further. I’m not saying she would have won but she would have been a good third I thought. I couldn’t be happier with her. She is so tough and genuine. I think the ground is key and it has got to be like it is. She is very relaxed and straightforward and I’d like to think there is a race like that in her.
“That is definitely a career best today. I furlong out I thought here we go as there was a few of us in line. She has run huge and not disgraced herself at all.”
Tom Eaves, Emaraaty Ana, Sixth (66-1)
“I’m delighted with him, he ran a great race and I couldn’t be happier. He’s coming right back to his form now.”
Christophe Soumillon, Perfect Power, Seventh (9-4 Favourite)
“Unfortunately when I asked him to come through the horses, I never had a clear run and we shifted from the left to the right. He finished well and it wasn’t a bad run.”
Sean Levey, Happy Romance, Eighth (20-1)
“She’s run well again and probably wasn’t drawn on the best side as far as the race worked out today. She’s a handy filly and it may be time now to come back down to Group Two and Group Three races just to get her confidence back up and see where we are at the end of the year.”
Chris Hayes, Romantic Proposal, Tenth (16-1)
“I’d put it down to freshness early, she was a little bit gassy with me and I think at that high level she’s better at five coming off a real fast pace. I travelled too well and probably didn’t get home.”
Leigh Roche, Twilight Jet, Thirteenth (28-1)
“We jumped and travelled away in front but he just wasn’t comfortable and was very flat, there’s something amiss with him.”