Cheltenham next as Princess Zoe dead-heats on hurdling debut

Cheltenham next as Princess Zoe dead-heats on hurdling debut

Champion mare of group 1 princess zoe had to settle for a dead heat in 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 for the Cheltenham Festival.

The popular eight-year-old, who was sent off second favorite 5-4, raced enthusiastically and joined in the lead with Pink In The Park as the two rode side by side early before Danny Mullins sent his horse into the lead after the third hurdle.

Despite making a few mistakes, Princess Zoe jumped well overall and appeared to be in full swing as she increased her lead on the way home, with her rider still demanding maximum effort.

The Tony Mullins stable star, however, was hesitant on approaching the final hurdle that knocked her down and was quickly joined by Henry de Bromhead-trained Ladybank (40-1), wearing Kenny Alexander’s Honeysuckle colors under Rachael Blackmore.

The drama didn’t stop there, however, as Blackmore dropped her whip on walk-in before the pair sped past the post together.

After a long wait, the judge confirmed that he could not separate them and declared a dead heat.

In a post-race briefing with Gary O’Brien racing televisionMullins said the winner would now go straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the Ryanair Jack de Bromhead Mares Novice Hurdle.

“Winning or losing was everyone else’s concern, my concern was her welfare and how she was going to deal with it — and I thought she took it like a duck to water,” he said.

“She was very brave up front. I was a little concerned that she was gassy from not walking. She was a bit bloated at first and that didn’t help coming home, but overall – jumping and doing everything – I think it was a very good performance and I expect quite a big improvement for Cheltenham.

“I suppose we don’t know what Ladybank is. We walked away from the others, that was nice. Danny said the reason he missed the last one was because it was just starting to run out. I thought it was because she was gassy early on because she was fresh. We’ve had all our work done at home but she’s just a mare who needs exercise so we’re hoping to see big improvements for Cheltenham – we hope, you know.

“We just don’t have the time [for another run before Cheltenham]. Ideally we would have liked to have done that in mid-December and then tried it for Christmas and then on to Cheltenham, but the way the timing has worked now we’ll probably be going to school in the Curragh in mid-February and then straight to Cheltenham.

“Danny and I both agree that we should stay with the newcomer. Unless there’s a big change we’re going to do. Stick to their own company and their own gender.

“This is the best newcomer I’ve seen in a long time. This year there are three or four very good ones with a lot of experience, but if we get there we will give them a chance.”

Paddy Power gives Princess Zoe a 16-1 chance for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, which is likely to be her target at the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

The gray has been a fantastic servant over the last four years, with a Group 1 triumph at the 2020 Prix du Cadran, the culmination of a flat career that has also seen him win the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and finished second to Subjectivist in the gold became cup.

She looked set to retire in 2023 due to broodmare duties but failed to meet her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale causing the Connections to reconsider and after this encouraging hurdling debut they will no doubt be happy with the decision.

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