Princess Zoe came out on top in a pulsating finish to the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.
The Tony Mullins-trained mare had to be tough under Joey Sheridan in the closing stages as she was challenged on both sides.
Hughie Morrison’s Quickthorn laid down his bid down the centre of the track – but it was Ian Williams’ Enemy who was giving her particularly close attention on the rail, after William Buick had been forced to wait for a gap to come.
Aidan O’Brien’s Wordsworth and Brian Ellison’s Tashkhan were also in attendance, but had cried enough inside the final furlong
Enemy and Princess Zoe (17-2) came close together and a stewards’ inquiry was called, but the popular grey kept the race to take Group Three honours.
Betfair were impressed and cut the winner, who prevailed by a head, to 6-1 from 14s for the Gold Cup in which she finished second last year to Subjectivist.
Mullins said: “I think she likes to come into her races and just loves a battle. She is just a warrior. I will never have the like of her again, anyway. When you have trained ordinary horses for 25 or 30 years and then you have one like this it is special. She is just part of the family.”
He added: “We came here today to win. She was fit enough to win, but hopefully, if I’m any good to train, she is going to improve for Royal Ascot. The extra half-mile is going to make a difference anyway and I feel there is more in the tank.
“I have done very little with her from Saudi Arabia to here and we very nearly ran in Navan, but then I thought Ascot suited her better and I’m really delighted we came here now. I believe we will improve for the Ascot Gold Cup.
“I was anxious about the ground. I was a little surprised they didn’t water last night, which would still have left it good to firm, but not quite as quick as that. Hopefully she will be fine in the morning and then the whole build-up to the Gold Cup begins.
“I thought we would win the Prix du Cadran last last year and we got beat and I couldn’t speak for two or three minutes. I couldn’t breathe after the race – I thought she was a certainty. I just said ‘get it out of your mind now and start building towards the Gold Cup’.
“It means the world. Nothing comes close. I have never had a horse like her and never will again. I hope I do, though.
“We have often had good horses who have got injured, but this one is like having your mother beside you – she turns up every time.
“She does what it says on the tin. Every time.”
He went on: “We had no real special plan. I said to Joey that Nayef Road will probably make the running and that we should be close to him and ride her with loads of confidence. I said ‘I don’t care if we don’t win, this is about the Gold Cup’.
“You feel massive pressure today. Everyone believes she is a heavy-ground mare and I’m bringing her here on good to firm and I know if she was well beaten that everyone would say I was wrong and made a big mistake.
“When you have a star – a star in Aidan O’Brien’s is just one of the team – a star in my yard is just something else. I worry every hour about her.”
Asked about a potential run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Mullins added: “We had early on thoughts of a heavy-ground Arc, but now, two-miles plus is her. We had a couple of little goes at a mile and five and a mile and six, but it didn’t work – why bring a tractor onto the motorway?
“You go where it suits the mare and we’ll stick to two miles plus. We will go straight to the Gold cup now.
“I was very impressed with that horse of Aidan’s (Kyprios) on Saturday, and also Trueshan. He is the horse to beat. If there is cut in the ground, I would very much be afraid of Trueshan. If Trueshan was out of the way, I’d have a fair pep in my step.”
Following the inquiry, the stewards found Sheridan guilty of careless riding “as he allowed his mount to drift right-handed for several strides without sufficient correction causing Buick to become short for room on the inside rail”. He was suspended for four days.