IT'S always tough but this year it will be even tougher. Perhaps the Ribblesdale Stakes will be the highlight of Ascot's royal meeting, and for a horse seeking redemption, there are naturally easier assignments to accomplish.

Alcohol Free, owned by Jeff Smith, chairman of Salisbury racecourse, faces two formidable Irish challengers in Mother Earth and Empress Josephine.

The former won the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, in which Alcohol Free finished fifth, and the latter took the Irish equivalent at the Curragh. She has been supplemented as has Flirting Bridge who finished second in a major trial at Leopardstown.

"She has by all accounts been working really well at home," reported Smith, discussing her chances in the race which has attracted 16 entries.

The filly, ironically Irish bred, burst into prominence when taking the prestigious Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in September when, sent off the 7/2 second favourite, she led from flag fall to win by half a length.

On her first appearance as a three-year-old, she started as the 9/4 favourite in the 17 runner Fred Darling Stakes, a major trial for the second classic of the season, and taking the lead a furlong out, clung on tenaciously to win by a short head.

However, connections were pleased with the performance and expected to improve markedly for the big race.

"She had a fairly rough preparation to get to the race," Smith explained.

However, luck was certainly against her at Newmarket when she was drawn on the wrong side of the course, and though she made some headway coming out of the day, the 7/2 shot was beaten just over two lengths.

"She was on one side and the pace with the first four was on the other. It was most annoying!"

As for her chances of revenge - the ground will certainly not inconvenience her. Though it's currently riding good to firm, thundery rain is expected tomorrow evening and heavy rain will be deluging the course on Friday.

Oisin Murphy will again be on board on Alcohol Free who is a best priced 8/1, and the tactics will be left to him.

But can she win? "I am extremely hopeful," Smith replied. "This time I trust we get a better draw."