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Princess Zoe set for Cheltenham after sharing spoils at Punchestown on hurdles debut

Princess Zoe was a Group One winner on the Flat in France and also took the Group Three Sagaro Stakes; she also finished second to Subjectivist in the Ascot Gold Cup; the run was enough to convince trainer Tony Mullins to send her to the Cheltenham Festival

Princess Zoe and Joey Sheridan hold off all rivals to land the Sagaro Stakes.
Image: Princess Zoe and Joey Sheridan hold off all rivals to land the Sagaro Stakes

Princess Zoe had to settle for a share of the honours on her jumping debut at Punchestown, after a dead-heat finish with Rachael Blackmore on Ladybank.

The Tony Mullins-trained 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.

Princess Zoe, right, alongside Stradivarius on her way to finishing second in this year's Ascot Gold Cup
Image: Princess Zoe, right, alongside Stradivarius on her way to finishing second in the Ascot Gold Cup

Following a pleasing schooling session last week, Princess Zoe was given the green light to give hurdling a go with a view to a potential appearance at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Despite her exploits on the level, she was not even favourite for her first start in the National Hunt sphere, with the Willie Mullins-trained Pink In The Park preferred at a shade of odds-on at 10-11.

The top two in the market were the first two in the race for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, with 5-4 chance Princess Zoe asserting into a clear lead on the second circuit under Danny Mullins.

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Having jumped adequately in the main, the eight-year-old looked to have victory sewn up after travelling strongly into the straight, but she flattened the final flight, giving Henry de Bromhead's Ladybank - carrying the Honeysuckle colours of Kenny Alexander under Blackmore - a real shot on the run-in.

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There was nothing to choose between the pair on the approach to the winning line and they flashed by as one. After a tense wait, the judge confirmed he could not split them and declared a dead-heat.

Paddy Power make Princess Zoe a 16-1 chance for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, which appears likely to be her target over the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.

And Willie Mullins, who admitted to being nervous about whether his stable star would take to the jumping game, is confident there is more to come from her ahead of the Festival.

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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."

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