Group One-winning mare Princess Zoe had to settle for a dead-heat on her first outing over obstacles in the Bar One Racing "Bet 10 Get 50 Sign Up Offer" Mares Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown on Monday but will now head straight to the Cheltenham Festival.
The popular eight-year-old, who was sent off the 5-4 second favourite, raced exuberantly and matched strides with Pink In The Park out in front as the pair raced alongside each other early on before Danny Mullins sent his mount into the lead after the third hurdle.
Although she made a couple of errors, Princess Zoe jumped well overall and looked to be full of running as she increased her lead turning for home, with her rider yet to ask for maximum effort.
However, Tony Mullins’ stable star hesitated on the approach to the final hurdle, which she flattened, and was quickly joined by the Henry de Bromhead-trained Ladybank (40-1) who was carrying the Honeysuckle colours of Kenny Alexander under Rachael Blackmore.
The drama didn’t stop there, though, as Blackmore dropped her whip on the run in before the pair flashed past the post together.
After a lengthy wait, the judge confirmed he could not split them and declared a dead-heat.
In a post-race briefing with Gary O'Brien on Racing TV, Mullins said that the winner would now go straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the Ryanair Jack de Bromhead Mares' Novices' Hurdle.
“The win or lose was everyone else’s worry, my worry was her welfare and how she’d take to it – and I thought she took to it like a duck to water," he said.
“She was very brave out in front. I was a little worried that she was gassy from not having a run. She was a bit gassy early on and that didn’t help in getting home, but the overall picture – to jump out and make all – I think it was a very good performance and I’m expecting quite a large improvement to go to Cheltenham.
"She took to it like a duck to water." - Tony Mullins provides his verdict on Princess Zoe's hurdling debut
“I suppose we don’t know what Ladybank is. We went away from the others so that was nice. Danny said the reason she missed the last was that she was just starting to empty. I thought it was because she was gassy early on from being fresh. We had all our work done at home, but she is just a mare that needs a run so we’re hoping we’re going to see big improvement for Cheltenham – we hope, you know.
“We just haven’t time [for another run before Cheltenham]. Ideally we’d love to have done this in the middle of December and then get a go at Christmas and then on to Cheltenham but the way the timing has worked now we’ll probably school at the Curragh in the middle of February and then straight to Cheltenham.
“Danny and I are both of the same opinion that we should stick to the mares’ novice. Unless there’s a huge change that’s what we’ll be doing. Stick to her own company and her own sex.
“It’s the best mares’ novice I’ve seen in a long time. There are three or four very good ones in it this year with plenty of experience, but if we can get there we’ll give them a run for it.”
Paddy Power make Princess Zoe a 16-1 chance for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The grey has been a fantastic servant over the past four years, with a Group One triumph in the 2020 Prix du Cadran the highlight of a Flat career that also saw her win the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and finish second to Subjectivist in the Gold Cup.
She looked set to be retired for broodmare duties in 2023, but failed to meet her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale, prompting connections into a rethink, and following this encouraging hurdling debut, they will no doubt be pleased with the decision.LAST CHANCE! Enjoy a free one month trial of Racing TV – the only channel showing every race live from the Cheltenham Festival! Watch every race live from all the meetings that matter across Britain and Ireland including the Dublin Racing Festival. Click above to start yours now.
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