Alcohol Free Heads Banner Year For Gaffneys

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Michael Gaffney, second right, with his brother Tom, left, and their families | Healy Racing

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It would be perfectly natural to feel some regret for having sold a mare in the same year that she foaled a subsequent treble Group 1 winner. But you will hear nothing of the sort from Michael Gaffney of Churchtown House Stud, breeder of Alcohol Free (Ire) (No Nay Never).

“We are absolutely thrilled with what she has done. We are very proud of her and very pleased for her owner Jeff Smith,” says Gaffney. “It's a huge thing for us to have bred a filly like her–we are not a big farm.”

With her defeat of 2000 Guineas and St James's Palace S. winner Poetic Flare (Ire) (Dawn Approach {Ire}) in last week's G1 Qatar Sussex S., the star of Andrew Balding's high-flying stable augmented a CV which already had an extremely classy look to it following her win in last year's G1 Cheveley Park S. and conquering of Snow Lantern (GB) (Frankel {GB}) in the G1 Coronation S. at Royal Ascot. Alcohol Free is a rare non-homebred to race in the famous colours of Littleton Stud, which is owned by one of the stalwarts of British Thoroughbred breeding in Jeff Smith, whose previous win in Goodwood's prestigious mile contest had come with Chief Singer (GB) (Ballad Rock {GB}) back in 1984.

The Co Cork farm where she was born and raised is run by Gaffney with his wife Anne on a principally commercial footing. It is home to around 12 mares, with nine foals on the ground this year.

“In everything we have ever sold–foals, yearlings or mares–we have always wished the very best for the next person, because over the years every time we have sold a good horse to someone they have always come back and looked at our horses,” says Gaffney. “For us it's about building up a rapport with people and hoping for repeat business. And when it's a family that you know and can talk about that has always worked very well for us.”

Alcohol Free's family is just that and has come full circle. For though her dam Plying (Hard Spun) was bred by Rabbah Bloodstock and raced in Sheikh Mohammed's colours, her grandam, the listed-placed winner Nasaieb (Ire) (Fairy King), had in turn been bred by Churchtown House Stud.

“It was a family that we had before that was very good to us, and we bought back into it when we bought Plying,” Gaffney explains. “We bred Nasaieb and we had her dam here, Atyaaf. So we lost the family, we tried to get back into it and that's how we ended up with Plying. I suppose we are a farm that loves families, and we try to build out from them knowing what works and what doesn't for them. With Plying, she just didn't work out for us and at some stage you just have to face up to that and that's what we did.”

Plying had been bought from Darley by the Gaffneys in 2013 for €12,000 and she was sold five years later at the Goffs November Sale for €21,000, two days after her then-unnamed No Nay Never foal had caught the eye of Littleton Stud manager David Bowe, who bought her for €40,000. The mare's only other winner to date is Alexander James (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), who, Like Alcohol Free, demonstrated a love of soft ground when landing the listed Prix le Fabuleux at Chantilly for Anne-Sophie Crombez.

Gaffney, whose brother Tom manages Coolmore's Castlehyde Stud, continues, “As well as foals and yearlings we sell the odd mare from time to time as you're always trying to replenish your stock. We have pivoted a little bit in the last number of years and kept a share in the offspring of some of our better mares and raced a few of them. That has worked out very well for us and this year seems to be one of those absolute purple years for us.”

The purple patch has included the smart Fozzy Stack-trained Castle Star (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}), the winner of the G3 Marble Hill S. and runner-up in the G2 Railway S. who is likely to be seen next in the G1 Keeneland Phoenix S. on Sunday. The juvenile was bred and initially raced in a partnership by the farm before being sold privately to Craig Bernick and Antony Beck in June.

The stud's credentials have also been enhanced in America by Higher Truth (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), a 500,000gns Book 1 yearling sold to Mike Ryan two years ago. Recently third in the GI Belmont Oaks for Chad Brown, Higher Truth is a daughter of Churchtown House's G3 Ballycorus S. winner Wannabe Better (Ire) (Duke Of Marmalade {Ire}) whose first foal, Lady Wannabe (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), also trained by Stack, was retained to race in partnership with Clem and Barbara Murphy and won last season's G3 Darley S.

“We have another filly we bred called Sure Break (Ire) with Neil Drysdale in America and she is two from three, so we are having a glorious year,” says Gaffney. “Three of our other horses are rated 90 or over, so I suppose it's like what they say about buses, but every farm needs a year like this every now and then. The absolute brilliant thing about horses is that you never know, and every now and then something comes along and surprises you.”

The prowess of Alcohol Free, who is the highest-earning filly in Britain and Ireland this year, and behind only Derby and King George winner Adayar (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) overall, did perhaps not come as a total surprise to her breeder, however.

“She was an exceptionally good-looking filly, possibly didn't have the best action, and as you know going to the sales everybody wants this big-walking horse and she possibly didn't have that. But as an individual she was the eye-catcher in the field,” Gaffney recalls.

“David Bowe saw her at the sales and fair dues to him, he could see what a beauty she was, and in David's favour was not having to resell her. For us, we're so proud of Alcohol Free because it just proves we've got back after a long time to breeding a Group 1 horse again. We had Wannabe Grand (Ire) on the farm a good number of years ago and that family has really flourished for us, and that's the most important thing.”

He adds, “What has made it even more special with Alcohol Free is that Oisin Murphy used to live in Churchtown with his uncle Jim Culloty and we would have known him when he was really small, so it's a most fantastic tie-up. Everybody in Churchtown has been very proud of Oisin and we were very proud of what Jim did for an area like Churchtown when he was training here. I know they are Kerrymen and we are here in Cork over the border, but we are very proud of them.”

It is possible that the Gaffney family won't have too long to wait for their next Group 1 winner. Castle Star has various targets pencilled in, including the G1 Darley Prix Morny, and his dam Awohaam (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}) is back in foal to his sire Starspangledbanner with a U S Navy Flag foal this year.

“The day she foaled the filly, Fozzy rang me and asked what she was going back to and he said for his money she should be going back to Starspangledbanner,” Gaffney notes. “I thought to myself obviously something good happened on the gallops this morning. Usually when a trainer rings they are dream-ending conversations rather than dream-beginning conversations.”

By May 3, Castle Star was a listed winner, and he has continued to improve on that in his next two starts.

“Hopefully he's going to the Phoenix Stakes next and Fozzy is very bullish about him. We will ride on his coat-tails as he keeps going forward,” says Gaffney.

In a terrific season, the Gaffneys have plenty of coat-tails to grab as the dream remains very much alive. 

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