The next stop is Cheltenham, as Princess Zoe shares the spoils on hurdling bow.
Group One Flat winner dead-heats at Punchestown.
Princess Zoe had a dead-heat finish to the Bar One Racing “Bet 10 Get 50 Sign Up Offer” Mares Maiden Hurdle, so she had to settle for a share of winnings on her jumping debut at Punchestown.
The grey trained by Tony Mullins has performed admirably over the past four years. His Group One victory in the 2020 Prix du Cadran was the crowning achievement of a successful Flat career that also included second place finishes in the Gold Cup and the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.
She was supposed to retire in 2023 to work as a broodmare, but she didn’t sell for her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale, which made her connections rethink their plans.
Princess Zoe was given permission to try hurdling following a successful schooling session last week in preparation for a possible appearance at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Despite her success on the track, she was not even a strong favorite for her first start in the National Hunt. Pink In The Park, trained by Willie Mullins, was the favorite at 10-11.
For most of the two and a half miles, the market’s top two horses led the race, but Danny Mullins’ 5-4 favorite Princess Zoe took a clear lead on the second turn.
The eight-year-old appeared to have won after jumping well in the main and traveling strongly into the straight. However, she flattened the final flight, giving Henry de Bromhead’s Ladybank, riding under Rachael Blackmore in the Honeysuckle colors of Kenny Alexander, a real shot on the run-in.
On their way to the winning line, there was nothing to choose between the two, so they passed by together. The judge declared a dead heat and confirmed that he could not split them after a nervous wait.
Princess Zoe is a 16-1 shot to win the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, which appears to be her target over the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, according to Paddy Power.
And despite the fact that Mullins acknowledged that he was concerned about whether his stable star would adapt to the sport of jumping, he is optimistic that she will produce further output prior to the Festival.
He said: “We’re very happy with her. Danny said he thought she was a little guessy on her own at one or two of them.
“At the moment we’re thinking of the mares’ novice at Cheltenham but it’s not definite. It looks the logical way as opposed to the Albert Bartlett.
“I thought she was a little gassy having not run for a while. That might have emptied her a little.
“We had all her work done at home but she needs that run to bring her to herself. Danny said when she was gassy early on he’d let her go to the front and then she just had nothing with her. I think it was a very good performance to jump out and make all.”
He added: “I’m very happy with her. She’s taken to jumping and she’s brave, usually they might be ducking at hurdles but she didn’t do any of that.
“I don’t think she’ll run again before Cheltenham.”
Mullins does not rule out the possibility of Princess Zoe returning to the Flat for some of the major staying prizes later in the year. This possibility extends beyond the Festival.
He added: “Paddy (Kehoe, part-owner) has always said to me that as long as she’s able to run breeding is only secondary to him. Who am I to complain?
“It’s great for the likes of me because we’ll never have the likes of her again. She’s just a great mare.
“Something did happen last year (on the Flat), we never noticed in her work but maybe Kyprios is such a powerhouse that it emptied her.
“Every time we thought we were going to get back and show him but we never did. I’d say Kyprios is one of the all-time greats, that’s what I think. We might have another go at him.”
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