Alcohol Free is the star attraction in the bet365 Mile at Sandown on Friday as Andrew Balding’s filly makes her seasonal reappearance, with Rob Hornby riding for the first time since her two-year-old days.
The daughter of No Nay Never was in the winner’s enclosure three times last season, most notably when taking the Coronation Stakes on heavy ground at Royal Ascot and then again thriving with cut in the surface at Goodwood in the Sussex Stakes, with Oisin Murphy in the saddle.
The four-year-old clearly relishes some give in the ground, although her handler is far from perturbed by the prospect of good going for this return to action, where she will also wear a hood during a race for the first time.
Balding said: “They do a very good job with the ground at Sandown and she was placed on very fast ground in a Falmouth Stakes. She obviously handles cut in the ground very well, but I do not see ground being a problem.
“The hood is just to try to make sure she relaxes as she can get a little adrenalized, but she does most of her work in a hood and does very well in it.”
The Kingsclere handler points to Alcohol Free’s record fresh as a cause for optimism ahead of this first outing of the season.
“Obviously it’s her first run of the year, but she’s won first time out the last two seasons and it looks a nice race for her,” said Balding.
“Everything needs to go right for her but I’m very happy with the way she’s trained, happy with how she looks in her coat and if she can relax and be on song, she should take a lot of beating.
“We’ll see how we get on and she’s got all sorts of options moving forward – she’s in the Lockinge, she’ll have a couple of Royal Ascot entries, but we’ll get Sandown out of the way first.”
Charles Hills’ Mutasaabeq is another to thrive in the early part of the season in his career to date.
An impressive winner of a conditions contest at Newmarket at the Craven Meeting in 2021, he was thrust into the Guineas for his next start and connections are looking for Group Two glory this time around following his cozy success in another conditions heat on his seasonal bow at Thirsk.
Hills said: “He’s in good shape and has come out of Thirsk in good shape.
“We put him in at the deep end quite quickly last year, so we were quite conscious to start off in a conditions race and then work up from there. He’s a very talented horse.”
Angus Gold, racing manager for owner Shadwell, added: “He was good the other day and it was nice to see him back on track.
“Obviously this is a big step up in class, but he’s a four-year-old now and while I’m not saying he’s going to go and beat Alcohol Free, if he’s going to make the grade, he better run well.
“He looked at a potentially high-class horse last year and we threw him in at the deep end (in the 2000 Guineas), which backfired.
“Thirsk was a nice confidence booster for him and it’s up to him now.”
Rhoscoyln was third behind Mutasaabeq at Thirsk and is one of the likely outsiders in the race along with Sir Michael Stoute’s Lights On, although one who could surprise is Johan, who landed the Lincoln last month when making his first start for Mick Channon.
The five-year-old was winning for the seventh time when successful on Town Moor and his handler is hopeful of another bold showing.
“He’s in great form, whether ultimately we’re good enough at that level is another matter. We’ve got to give a Group One horse weight which could be a problem, but he’s in great form and we thought we’ve got to have a go, “said Channon.
“He’s going to get his ground, so we hope we can be competitive. We’d love to get some black type, that’s our aim, but apart from the Group One filly, it looks a very open race.
“He’s still not there in his coat, but he’s been in great order since Doncaster, his work has been excellent and we’ll see what happens.”
The six-strong field is rounded off by John and Thady Gosden’s Sunray Major, who has won three of his five starts, but was a disappointing 2-1 favorite for the Balmoral Handicap when last sighted.