York report: Highfield Princess just magical in Nunthorpe

Fri 19 Aug 2022

Full replay: Highfield Princess strikes in the Nunthorpe

Highfield Princess blasted to a second Group One triumph within the space of 13 days and enhanced the fine record of fillies and mares in the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes by leading home a Yorkshire-trained 1-2-3 in the big Friday highlight at York.

The versatile five-year-old was making just her second start over the minimum trip and was bagging her second Group One victory in the space of a fortnight having scooped the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville earlier this month.

Richard Fahey’s The Platinum Queen blazed a trail off a featherweight of 8st in the hands of Hollie Doyle and looked set to become the first juvenile filly since Lyric Fantasy in 1992 to waltz away with this Group One prize.

But Jason Hart and Highfield Princess (5-1) soon loomed large in the shadows to put her perfect blend of speed and stamina to expert use in the closing stages and storm to a going-away two-and-a-half-length victory.

The victory means she is the first horse since Handsome Sailor in 1988 to follow up victory in York’s 1895 Duke of York Stakes with the Nunthorpe and she was cut to 7-2 from 8-1 for Haydock’s Betfair Sprint Cup by the race sponsor to keep her Group One-winning run going next month.

However, trainer John Quinn is favouring one more run in France before heading to America for the Breeders' Cup meeting in the autumn.

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He said: "She didn't run at two and it took her quite a while to learn her trade. She won three races as a three-year-old and then last year she won at Royal Ascot and she was placed in several Group races. This year she won the All-Weather Final at Newcastle and then we said we'd run in the Duke of York and she romped up.

"She ran very well at Royal Ascot and then she won well in France 12 days ago. She's come back and won really well here.

"We put her in the Foret and the Abbaye, so all being well two more runs - Foret or Abbaye, and the Breeders' Cup.

"I'm delighted to have her."

There has surely been no horse in modern times to have improved from an opening handicap mark of 57 to being the leading sprinter in the land. But that journey is now complete for Quinn’s speedster.

Perhaps all the more remarkable is that the Prix Maurice de Gheest she won less than two weeks ago is run over six and a half furlongs at Deauville – almost a quarter of a mile more than the five-furlong Nunthorpe.

“Wow. What a mare,” said Quinn, an Irishman who has been based in Malton, North Yorkshire, since the 1980s when he came over to ride for Jimmy Fitzgerald.

“She won over seven furlongs at Royal Ascot last year, the Duke of York over six here in May, the Maurice de Gheest over six and a half and now 12 days later she’s won the Nunthorpe.

 Connections and Highfield Princess after Nunthorpe glory (Photo: Dan Abraham /
Connections and Highfield Princess after Nunthorpe glory (Photo: Dan Abraham /

“Straight after France I didn’t know if we would be here, but she’s taken it all so well. She has some constitution.

“Apart from my family she means everything to me, I’m not being smart. You dream of having a horse like this.

“Every trainer does the same thing when you are deciding whether to run, you are looking all the time for a reason not to run and she didn’t give me one.

“I’ve run her back a few times quickly and she’s nearly always run up to her best and since France she’s been bright as a button.”

For a horse with such strong form over seven furlongs having won the Buckingham Palace at Ascot last June, conventional wisdom might have seen her stretch out to a mile, but as can often be the case, the older she became the quicker she got – with the next plan to do it on the world stage in November.

“When we were qualifying her for all-weather finals day we ran her over five and Tone The Barone beat her, but he was match fit and only beat her half a length so that gave us hope,” said Quinn.

“This means everything. It’s better than winning the lottery. To win here at York, with all my family here, it’s fantastic.”

"She's just wonderful" - Quinn speaks to Lydia Hislop

Highfield Princess is owned by John Fairley, who used to head Channel 4 Racing – and just happens to be Quinn’s landlord.

“When she was starting out I said to John that she won’t win a maiden so we’ll get her categorised and go from there. When they gave her 57 I thought ‘oh heck, we can’t get her in a 0-55!’,” said Quinn.

“Her progress year in and year out and been astounding and she’s been a joy to train.

“The end game has always been the Breeders’ Cup as she’s got loads of tactical speed and five and a half furlongs around two bends will be right up her alley. She’ll go back to France before than, probably the Abbaye rather than the Foret.”

Fairley was finding it all hard to take in and said: “Her story is one of the most epic stories in the history of thoroughbred racing. To do what she has done in two years is incredible, and to win a Nunthorpe by two and a half lengths, hardly anyone does that.

“To see a horse do what she has done, I bought the dam for £18,000 when she was in foal. I’d always bought the odd horse in France and I like French-breds – especially as you get the premiums!

“You have to wait until they are 18 months old to bring them home, but since then I’ve been able to look at her every day.

“She bit me this morning, that’s how I knew she was feeling good, but I didn’t think she’d win like that.

“We talked about four or five races after France, but the main aim has always been the Breeders’ Cup.”

"It's mad, isn't it?" - Jason Hart on the remarkable feats of Highfield Princess

On board throughout most of her career has been Hart, who celebrated his first Group One less than two weeks ago. What is it they say about London buses?

“She gave me my first Group One winner a couple of weeks ago and it probably means more today to do it on home soil. She deserved it,” he said.

“I was really confident, the two-year-old was giving us a nice tow and I thought I’d be able to pick her up whenever I wanted really. I thought if I could just hold her together for the middle part of the race she’d finish her race off.

“She’s definitely getting quicker.”

Hart admitted that while the duo's Deauville victory meant a lot, a Group One win on Yorkshire turf was even more special.

He said: "She gave me my first Group One winner a couple of weeks ago and it probably means more today to do it on home soil. She deserved it.

"I was really confident, the two-year-old was giving us a nice tow and I thought I'd be able to pick her up whenever I wanted really. I thought if I could just hold her together for the middle part of the race she'd finish her race off.

"She's definitely getting quicker."

Middleham Park proud of The Platinum Queen

 Highfield Princess leads home The Platinum Queen at York (Photo: Dan Abraham /
Highfield Princess leads home The Platinum Queen at York (Photo: Dan Abraham /

The Platinum Queen could head to Paris for the Prix de l’Abbaye following her gallant runner-up effort in the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

The Richard Fahey-trained Cotai Glory filly was beaten two and a half lengths by Highfield Princess, with the juvenile having been supplemented for the race at a cost of £40,000 by owners Middleham Park Racing, who more than got their money back.

The Platinum Queen, in receipt of upwards of 8lb from her 12 opponents, was having just a fifth start, in a bid to become the first two-year-old to win the race since Kingsgate Native in 2007 and the first filly of her generation after Lyric Fantasy 30 years ago.

Ridden by Hollie Doyle, she took charge and looked primed to score approaching the final furlong, only to hang her head to the right and show some greenness in the closing stages, as the John Quinn-trained winner swept past under Jason Hart.

Syndicate manager Tim Palin said he was “thrilled” for the owners, who may well book their flights to Longchamp for the five-furlong Group One contest on Arc day, October 2.

“It’s a relief – we don’t look stupid for supplementing and for four-fifths of the race we probably looked quite clever!” exclaimed Palin.

“In the end it was a great run and we’ve been beaten by a high-class animal. Fair play to the John Quinn team, we’re thrilled for them, but equally we’re thrilled for our members that we’ve come so far in such a short space of time.

“The weight-for-age might be a little bit generous and whether we can come back and replicate that in the future only time will tell, but I think she’s going to give us plenty of fun.

“She’s got the Abbaye entry and you wouldn’t know whether the ground in Paris will suit her or not. You would have thought that would be the logical place to go.

“You could go for the Flying Childers at Doncaster on the way, but this is the stuff that dreams are made of – having to sit down Aidan O’Brien-style and decide where to go.”

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Second last year, the Kevin Ryan-trained Emaraaty Ana stayed on to finish third on this occasion, a length and a half behind the runner-up under Kevin Stott.

Adam Ryan, assistant to his father, said the six-year-old would now go back up in trip and head to Haydock in a bid to defend his Sprint Cup title on September 3.

“We’re thrilled with him. It’s great to see him run like that,” said Ryan.

“He’s taken his time to recover from running in Dubai earlier in the year, but he was more himself in the July Cup and has come here a fresh horse and has run his race.

“Hopefully now he can go on to Haydock now and defend his crown in the Sprint Cup. That (six furlongs) is his ideal trip and it’s all systems go for Haydock.”

Charlie Hills was also satisfied with the run from hat-trick-seeking Khaadem, who raced on the far rail and finished fourth under Ryan Moore.

“The ground was a little bit loose over that side where he was, but he’s run a really good race,” said Hills.

“A good filly has won and he had a Group One winner just in front of him. We’ll look at the Flying Five at the Curragh next.”

Three-year-old Royal Aclaim saw her unbeaten run ended on only her fourth start.

Though sent off the 5-2 favourite under Andrea Atzeni, trainer James Tate felt she had excuses on her first start in top-class company, finishing sixth from stall two.

Tate said: “It was probably not the best part of the track to be on, but we’re still a little bit disappointed.

“Andrea just said she was on the wrong side of the track and she’ll keep progressing with racing.

“It’s only the fourth run of her career and I’m sure we’ll keep moving forward. She’ll get there.”

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