Princess Zoe prepares for Cheltenham after splitting the spoils at Punchestown on her hurdles debut | Race News
Princess Zoe had to settle for a share of the honors on her show jumping debut at Punchestown, after finishing tied with Rachael Blackmore on Ladybank.
The Tony Mullins-trained gray has been a fantastic servant over the past four years, with a Group 1 triumph in the 2020 Prix du Cadran the culmination of a flat career that has also seen her win Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and Finish Second to Subjectivist in the Gold Cup.
She looked set to retire for brood mare duties in 2023 but failed to meet her reserve price at Tattersalls’ December sale, prompting connections to rethink.
After a pleasant school session last week, Princess Zoe has been given the green light to try out the hurdles for a possible appearance at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Despite her exploits at the level, she was not even favorite for her first start in the National Hunt sphere, with Pink In The Park, trained by Willie Mullins, favored over a shadow of chances at 10-11.
The top two in the market were the top two in the race for much of the two-and-a-half-mile run, with 5-4 chances of Princess Zoe asserting herself a clear lead on the second circuit under Danny Mullins.
After jumping adequately into the main, the eight-year-old appeared to have the victory sewn up after traveling strongly down the straight, but she flattened out the final flight, giving Henry of Bromhead’s Ladybank – wearing Kenny’s Honeysuckle colors Alexander under Blackmore – a real hit on the run-in.
There was nothing to choose between the pair approaching the winning line and they spun as one. After a tense wait, the judge confirmed he could not separate them and declared a tie.
Paddy Power gave Princess Zoe a 16-1 chance for the Mares ‘Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, who appeared to be his target on the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
And Willie Mullins, who admitted to being nervous about whether his stable star would get into the show jumping game, is convinced there is more to come from her ahead of the Festival.
He said: “We’re very happy with her. Danny said he thought she was a bit guessing on her own to one or two of them.
“At the moment we are thinking about the novice mares at Cheltenham but it is not definitive. It seems logical as opposed to the Albert Bartlett.
“I thought she was a little gassy not having raced in a while. It might have drained her a bit.
“We’ve done all her work at home but she needs this run to bring her back to herself. Danny said when she had gas at first he let her go to the forehead and then she didn’t have nothing with her anymore. I think it was a very good performance to jump and do everything.”
He added: “I’m very happy with her. She’s used to jumping and she’s brave, usually they can dodge hurdles, but she hasn’t done any of that. I don’t think she will race again ahead of Cheltenham.”