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Ascot or ParisLongchamp choice for Princess Zoe

Tony Mullins will see how quickly Princess Zoe recovers from her exertions in the Prix du Cadran before deciding whether the six-year-old mare returns to ParisLongchamp or heads for Ascot.

The Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup comes up first at Ascot on October 16, with the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp eight days later.

Mullins felt conditions did not suit Princess Zoe, who looked to have great chance of winning Saturday’s two-and-a-half mile Group One for the second year running when going as well as anything three furlongs out. However, she could only stay on at one pace and finished fifth to Trueshan.

“She came home a bit tired, but has freshened up nicely now,” said the Gowran-based trainer

“The ground was wet on top and quick under. I think that is why we failed to quicken. On Saturday, the rain hadn’t got into the ground. It was proper soft on Sunday.

“She was going well at the top of the straight, and I was making room for my trophy at that stage, but it didn’t work out that way.”

Princess Zoe will try again this month, but Mullins has yet to choose where.

“She’s in at Ascot and in the Prix Royal-Oak,” he added.

“She was fourth in that last year, but the winner was (subsequent Gold Cup hero) Subjectivist.

“We’ll have a look. I’m not sure – we’ve not been back long enough yet. If the turnaround looks OK we’re looking at Ascot; if not, we’ll go to the Prix Royal-Oak.

“We won’t make a decision just yet, but she will run somewhere.”

Princess Zoe pleasing Mullins ahead of Cadran defence

Princess Zoe is reported to be in tip-top shape ahead of her bid to defend her crown in the Qatar Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp on Saturday.

Tony Mullins’ classy stayer came from a long way back to collar long-time leader Alkuin in the closing stages and land the stamina test by half a length 12 months ago.

The six-year-old was among 16 horses left in the Group One over two and a half miles at the confirmation stage.

“She’s on her way to France and is in good form. We’re just waiting to see what the opposition is now,” said County Kilkenny-based Mullins.

“Stradivarius and Trueshan are the main two and Skazino is the main French one, I’d say, with maybe former winner Call The Wind (2018) next. They are the main ones, I think.

“It’s a strong race, but we’re fit and well and very happy to be going.

“We’ll be quite happy as long as there is no firm in the ground. If the ground is good, or good to soft, that will do us fine.”

Super stayer Stradivarius has been left in by connections as they monitor the ground, with the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot next month an alternative option.

The seven-year-old entire, trained by John and Thady Gosden, has enjoyed stirring victories at York and Doncaster on his last two starts.

Stradivarius remains a possible for the Prix du Cadran (
Stradivarius remains a possible for the Prix du Cadran (Mike Egerton/PA)

Alan King will be praying for rain to allow him to run Trueshan, who has not run since winning the Goodwood Cup at the end of July as conditions have been too quick.

Ian Williams’ The Grand Visir is the third British possible, while the Willie Mullins-trained Stratum, Donnacha O’Brien’s Emperor Of The Sun and last year’s runner-up Alkuin are among others in the list.

Raabihah heads a field of 13 remaining in the other Group One race on the card, the Qatar Prix de Royallieu.

The four-year-old filly, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, has an alternative engagement in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which she was fifth in 2020.

There are four British possibles – Roger Varian’s Believe In Love, Ed Walker’s Glenartney, Ralph Beckett’s Yesyes and the Gosden-trained Loving Dream – while top Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien is two-handed with Passion and Willow.

Saeed bin Suroor’s progressive four-year-old Real World remains in both the Qatar Prix Daniel Wildenstein and the Qatar Prix Dollar.

The Dark Angel colt made light work of the opposition in the Group Three Strensall Stakes at York on his latest start and could get his chance at the next level.

The 18 acceptors for the Daniel Wildenstein include dual winner The Revenant, trained by Francis Graffard, Simon and Ed Crisford’s Century Dream and the Walker-trained pair of Dreamloper and Stormy Antarctic, who is also in the Dollar.

The latter contest has 19 possibles, headed by three-times Group One winner Addeybb. His trainer William Haggas is also represented by Dubai Honour.

Megallan, from the Gosden stable, the Varian-trained Third Realm and Joseph O’Brien’s Patrick Sarsfield are among others in the mix.

Princess Zoe likely to chart direct route to ParisLongchamp for Cadran defence

Princess Zoe is set to miss the Doncaster Cup and head straight to ParisLongchamp in a a bid to win the Qatar Prix du Cadran for the second year running.

With the ground likely to be too fast for her in South Yorkshire, the focus will be on the grey mare retaining her crown in the two-and-a-half-mile Group One on October 2.

Princess Zoe has not won since lifting that prize last autumn, although she ran a mighty race when second to Subjectivist in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Trainer Tony Mullins reports his stable star to be good shape and is looking forward to taking her back to France.

“I don’t think she’ll be going to Doncaster. There’s no rain,” said the County Kilkenny trainer.

“She’s in good form. She’s going to Longchamp for the Prix du Cadran.

“It was a great day last year and she should get her ground there again.”

Conditions key to Princess Zoe’s York target

Ground conditions will dictate which race Princess Zoe will contest at York following her creditable effort in defeat at the Curragh.

Making her first appearance since filling the runner-up spot in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in June, the Tony Mullins-trained mare again had to make do with minor honours in the Irish St Leger Trial behind Twilight Payment.

Princess Zoe is set to make a swift return to action on the Knavesmire, but whether she will line up in Friday’s Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup or the Sky Bet Ebor the following afternoon remains undecided.

Mullins said: “I was happy with the run and she’s come out of it perfect. She’s out in the paddock this morning and is in great form.

“It depends on the weather forecast now. At the moment it is purely the weather that is going to make our decision.

“She showed on Friday that a mile and six (furlongs) is no problem to her – she had no problem with the faster pace.

“It leaves us as open to going for the Ebor as the Lonsdale Cup.”

Should Princess Zoe run in the Ebor, her rider Joey Sheridan will be able to use his 5lb claim.

“If any rain comes, she’ll run on the day there’s a better cut in the ground,” Mullins added.

“The claim would be an added advantage in the Ebor and it’s not like a normal Ebor where the bottom weight might be 8st 2lb as I can’t see anything below 9st getting in.”

Twilight Payment back in front at the Curragh

Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment returned to winning ways in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger Trial Stakes at the Curragh.

Joseph O’Brien’s eight-year-old enjoyed his finest hour in November last year, but had been out of luck in three subsequent starts, most recently in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

A 5-1 chance in the hands of Declan McDonogh, he took over from Amhran Na Bhfiann before three out, followed by Princess Zoe and Emperor Of The Sun.

Princess Zoe appeared to be going at least as well as the winner tight against the rail, with Emperor Of The Sun on her outside, but in the end Twilight Payment stayed on strongly to score by a length and three-quarters. Emperor Of The Sun was another neck back in third.

O’Brien’s assistant Brendan Powell said: “He’s a good old stager. I think he’s won it when Declan sent him on turning in and he got two lengths on them.

“I thought Princess Zoe might pick him up, but he’s some hard horse to pass. He’s so tough.

“Declan said he felt great going to the start and that’s the first time since he rode him last year that he’s got that sort of feel off him.

“He’s shown that he’s trained on and seems like the horse of old.”

Twilight Payment returned to winning ways under Declan McDonogh
Twilight Payment returned to winning ways under Declan McDonogh (PA)

Tony Mullins will now consider whether to go to York next week with his Group One-winning mare.

He said of Princess Zoe: “We were training for York and then we were afraid of no rain and if the rain doesn’t come she won’t go to York.

“Considering this came a week earlier than planned, we were two furlongs short of our best distance – I’m disappointed to get beaten, but delighted with the performance.

“She’s met a real machine over that distance.

“We were definitely leaning towards the Lonsdale (Cup), where now she’s showed she has the pace for a mile and six so it puts the other (Ebor) back in.

“We are going to have a good think about this for 24 hours.”

Johnny Murtagh (left) with Earlswood
Johnny Murtagh (left) with Earlswood (PA)

Earlswood gave the Irish Derby form a boost and set himself up for more big targets with a ready victory in the Fitzdares Royal Whip Stakes.

Ridden by Shane Kelly in the enforced absence of the suspended Ben Coen, the Pivotal colt – fourth to Hurricane Lane in the Curragh Classic – got on top heading inside the final furlong of the mile-and-a-quarter Group Three, having three-quarters of a length in hand of Reve De Vol as the 9-4 favourite.

Innisfree, not seen since his second to Kameko in the 2019 Vertem Futurity Trophy, made an encouraging comeback as he ran on for fifth place.

Of the winner, trainer Johnny Murtagh – who also enjoyed a high-profile triumph with Create Belief on Thursday evening – said: “It’s been a great couple of days, big rides for Shane Kelly but he’s certainly delivered.

“I’ve been very happy with this horse since the Derby. Glyn (Davies, owner) lives just up the road from us and brought him home for two weeks after the Derby. He definitely improved for the break.

“I thought he might be one gallop short, but he is a horse that always keeps himself pretty fit. He’s a pretty active horse and always works good.

“We had pencilled in a mile and a half on (Irish) Champions Weekend, but he has free entry now (after winning this race) for the Irish Champion Stakes so we’ll have to think about that.

“He’s an improving horse with a great will to win. When he went through the gap today you knew there was only going to be one winner. He stayed on really well.

“He has an entry in the English Champion Stakes later in the year.”

This was the 200th anniversary of the Royal Whip, Ireland’s longest-standing continuously staged horse race.

Head Mistress is still unbeaten
Head Mistress is still unbeaten (PA)

Head Mistress finished with a real purpose to maintain her unbeaten record in the Listed Finlay Volvo Curragh Stakes.

A winner first time out at Down Royal, the Ger Lyons-trained youngster powered down the outside of runners under Colin Keane to deny Loveday by half a length.

Shane Lyons, assistant to his brother, said of the 11-4 favourite: “She had to do it the hard way on the outside. She’s only having her second run and is still learning.

“She’s an absolute lady at home and only does what she is asked to do. You are always a bit worried after just one run, but Colin said she’ll improve again for it.

“She’ll also improve for an extra furlong, hence we made an entry for her in the Cheveley Park during the week. The way she’s going and the way she’s improving six furlongs will be no problem to her.”

He added: “John Brady is an old friend and has had horses with us from the start. Brian Gleeson also has a share so I’d say they will pitch in and go for the Cheveley Park.

“She has her black type now so it’s all a bonus.”

Mullins seeking York clues as Princess Zoe tackles Leger Trial

Tony Mullins expects Friday’s Comer Group International Irish St Leger Trial to leave stable star Princess Zoe cherry-ripe for another big-race assignment at York next week.

The six-year-old was slightly disappointing on her first two starts of the season at Cork and Gowran Park, but bounced back to her best with a brilliant run when runner-up to Subjectivist in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Princess Zoe is entered in the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup and the Sky Bet Ebor at York, with Mullins keen to see how she performs at the Curragh before deciding which race she will contest on the Knavesmire.

He said: “I’d say she’s coming forward all the time, which is unreal at her age.

“We’re very happy with her. We believe this is not her ideal distance (a mile and three-quarters), but it’s an ideal prep race after a lovely bit of rain in the last couple of days. We’re delighted she gets the chance to run.

“I don’t see any reason why she won’t go to York and Friday’s run will have the bearing factor on which race she goes for – that will tell us a lot more.

“We’re very open to whatever the mare tells us to do on Friday night.”

Should Princess Zoe earn herself a tilt at the Lonsdale Cup, she would likely renew rivalry with Gold Cup fourth Stradivarius.

However, it is Goodwood Cup winner Trueshan that Mullins rates as the bigger threat.

Princess Zoe has been a great servant to connections
Princess Zoe has been a great servant to connections (PA)

“Stradivarius has been a great horse, but if we can beat Trueshan I’d be very happy to think the rest of them would be behind us,” the trainer added.

“I was afraid if no rain came for York and we didn’t run on Friday, then we’d have nowhere. That’s what we were worried about.

“We’re not worried about good ground, I just don’t want good to firm. It was a brilliant run on good to firm at Ascot, but we have no desire to run on that ground again.”

Princess Zoe’s Curragh rivals include Wordsworth, whose trainer Aidan O’Brien has won this race in each of the past seven seasons, and the Joseph O’Brien’s multiple course winner Twilight Payment.

Mullins eager to avoid Subjectivist rematch with Princess Zoe

Tony Mullins is already planning a route back to the Prix du Cadran for his Gold Cup runner-up Princess Zoe – but warns he will do all he can to avoid another clash with her brilliant Royal Ascot conqueror Subjectivist.

Princess Zoe was a gallant runner-up to Mark Johnston’s commanding winner, with three-time Gold Cup winner Stradivarius behind her in fourth – in a renewal of the great race which Mullins rates stronger than any he has seen in the past half-century.

The Irish trainer is convinced Subjectivist, who also beat Princess Zoe in last year’s Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp, is yet to receive the full credit his talent deserves.

Mullins cannot see a way to beat “serious machine” Subjectivist – and while he will never again risk his mare on ground as quick as it was at Ascot on Thursday, he is equally intent on avoiding her old rival.

Princess Zoe was “very tired” but fine after her exertions and is likely to be seen next in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh in September, en route back to Paris a month later – with owner Patrick Kehoe’s dear wish to try her over hurdles still a possibility after the end of her top-flight 2021 Flat campaign.

Mullins said: “She was very tired when she came home, and a little puffy all round – that’s probably all the travelling straight after a hard race.

“But she’ll have a week off, and I’d say looking at her she’s fine.

“But we won’t ask her to run on that ground again.”

Storms were forecast at Ascot before the Gold Cup, but did not arrive in earnest until the following day – turning the going from good to firm to heavy.

“We were quite sure the rain was coming – even right up to two hours before the race, we thought enough was going to come,” said Mullins.

“It has never been our plan to run on that ground – and while she’s fine, you’d know she ran on it.

“It’s ground dependent again, but I would imagine at the moment we’re thinking of starting to train for the Irish Leger – and if that ground doesn’t work out, then a staying race in France, which should lead us into the Prix du Cadran.

“That’s our plan – and let’s hope Mark Johnston doesn’t have the same plan!”

Mullins is adamant Subjectivist has the makings of an all-time great – having shown remarkable adaptability in beating Princess Zoe into fourth in heavy ground in the Prix Royal-Oak, then impressively winning the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan en route to Ascot.

He said: “Subjectivist has handled (heavy ground) as well, and he beat us. Everyone thought our horse was tired (after winning the Cadran) in the Prix Royal Oak – (but) I feel she ran up to the mark.

“I don’t know how much he’s going to have to do for people to realise this is a serious machine.

“I remember 50 years of Ascot Gold Cups, and in my opinion that’s the best distance race I’ve ever seen in my life.

Tony Mullins believes Gold Cup winner Subjectivist has the makings of an all-time great
Tony Mullins believes Gold Cup winner Subjectivist has the makings of an all-time great (Steven Paston/PA)

“I think Stradivarius ran up to his mark. People haven’t noticed yet (how good Subjectivist is) – that Ascot Gold Cup, there’s an Irish Derby winner, an English Derby winner, a French St Leger winner, a Prix du Cadran winner, a three-time Ascot Gold Cup winner and a Melbourne Cup winner.

“I’d say that never happened before – Classics, Melbourne Cup and triple Ascot Gold Cup winners were just thrown all over the place in that race. It was a phenomenal race.

“I don’t know if a bunch like that ever met before.

“It’s only in three years’ time people are going to realise the machine this horse is that won it.”

Mullins is therefore all the more proud of his mare that she was able to beat all bar Subjectivist.

“I’ve studied this race since last January, and I was astounded that we could mix with the best like that,” he said.

“I know she’s a very good mare, but these are the best in the world.

“Unfortunately, while I can see a way of beating every (other) horse in the world, I can’t see a way of beating this lad.”

As for Princess Zoe, the consensus has been that her jumping aspirations were surely on permanent hold – but Mullins will consider that route later in the year.

He said: “Paddy is a dyed-in-the-wool jumping man – he used to own Grabel, who won the big race in America (International Hurdle) many years ago.

“He loves jumping, and he keeps suggesting to me that we go jumping.

“I’m not sure her physique will suit jumping. But if he wants to go, I told him we’ll look at it again after the Cadran.”

Princess Zoe has already shown, on the schooling grounds at Mullins’ Gowran base, that she has some aptitude at least.

“She’s done what I call baby schooling, baby hurdles – and she jumped them quite well,” he said.

“She wasn’t fantastic. She was just one of a bunch jumping there, and she jumped grand.

“I’d be surprised if she can – but if she takes to it, I don’t mind doing it if he wants to.”

Princess Zoe returns at Gowran with Ascot Gold Cup bid looming

Tony Mullins expects to see a “big improvement” from Princess Zoe when she makes her second start of the season in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Vintage Tipple Stakes at Gowran Park on Wednesday.

The daughter of Jukebox Jury enjoyed a meteoric rise after being bought from Germany last year, progressing from a mark of 64 when second on her Irish debut at Navan in June to claim top-level honours in the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend in Paris.

While she came up short in her bid for a sixth successive win in the Prix Royal-Oak, she was far from disgraced in finishing fourth behind the Mark Johnston-trained Subjectivist – and she was well fancied to make a winning return in last month’s Noblesse Stakes at Cork.

Princess Zoe was ultimately disappointing in beating just one rival home, but Mullins is confident a combination of improved fitness, softer ground and a step up in trip will see his stable star in a much better light ahead of a planned tilt at the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

“I’m hoping that the ground stays yielding to soft and the extra two furlongs should make a difference,” said the trainer.

“She’s getting fitter all the time. This will be her last run before the Ascot Gold Cup and I’m hoping to see a big improvement from Cork.

“It was a funny-run race at Cork. I thought they went very slow early on, which certainly wouldn’t play to our stamina strengths.

“I’m hoping it will be different (on Wednesday). She’s got to give away weight, but she’s going to have to do that all the time now apart from in Group Ones – we can’t avoid it.”

Frankie Dettori winning the Irish Oaks aboard Vintage Tipple
Frankie Dettori winning the Irish Oaks aboard Vintage Tipple (Haydn West/PA)

Mullins admits it would be extra special to land a Listed prize named after Vintage Tipple, who his father Paddy trained to win the Irish Oaks in 2003.

He added: “Gowran is our local track and the race is named after a horse my father trained to win a Classic, so it would be a lovely to win it.”

Princess Zoe is set to face eight rivals including Jessica Harrington’s pair of Barrington Court and Flor De La Luna.

Princess Zoe given Vintage Crop aim after lacklustre comeback

Tony Mullins feels a combination of factors contributed to Princess Zoe’s underwhelming return to action at Cork on Saturday.

The daughter of Jukebox Jury enjoyed a meteoric rise after being bought from Germany last year, progressing from a mark of 64 when second on her Irish debut at Navan in June to claim top-level honours in the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend in Paris.

While she came up short in her bid for a sixth successive win in October’s Prix Royal-Oak, she was far from disgraced in finishing fourth behind the Mark Johnston-trained Subjectivist, allowing connections to spend the winter dreaming.

Hopes were high ahead of her comeback run in the Listed Noblesse Stakes – but Princess Zoe ultimately beat only one rival.

Mullins said: “We had a suspicion that she was in season, but we brought her to the vet this morning and she wasn’t. She’s coming into season now, so whether that unsettled her, I don’t know.

“I’d say it was a combination of ground and trip and it being her first run of the season.

“Joey (Sheridan) said she was just going as fast as she was able to most of the time.”

Princess Zoe’s next potential target is the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan on April 25.

“We’ll wait for a bit of rain. We’re still looking at the Vintage Crop, but if the rain doesn’t come she won’t run,” Mullins added.

“She’s in good form and we’re just hoping that things will improve for the run.”

Mullins has big plans for Princess Zoe

Tony Mullins is “thinking big” as Princess Zoe makes her seasonal reappearance in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Noblesse Stakes at Cork.

Having been rated as low as 64 when she joined Mullins from Germany, the grey mare made rapid progress through the handicap ranks, winning five races – including the Group One Prix du Cadran.

She signed off for the season with a fourth-place finish behind Mark Johnston’s Subjectivist in the Prix Royal-Oak. But Mullins is keen to see in the early weeks of the season if she has the required pace for the top races over a mile-and-a-half, with the dream being a run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

“The plan is to get two runs into her in April while there’s a cut in the ground, and then we’ll plan the rest of the season after that,” he said.

“I’m keen to go back over a mile and a half with her. People have it in their heads that she’s a dour stayer – but from the work I’m seeing, I think she’ll be as effective or if not more over that trip.

“She’s won over a mile and a half twice at Galway. Slow horses tend not to be able to do that.

“It’s anxious times for us – we’re not used to this.”

With Subjectivist winning in Dubai last weekend, there was clearly no disgrace in her defeat.

“Subjectivist was impressive in Dubai, and I thought her run behind him was equally as good as her first in my opinion. She’d had two trips to France – I thought that was very good,” said Mullins.

“Hopefully she’s as good this year. If she is, the world is our oyster.”

Assessing Saturday’s return, he said: “There are no easy races in Ireland now – they are so competitive.

“Having had a quick look, I thought Jessie Harrington’s (Flor De La Luna) and Ger Lyons’ (Yaxeni) would be the biggest dangers – but if we under-perform there’d be others.

“Her work seems to be as good. She wouldn’t be 100 per cent, but we’re not far off it. She’s a strange filly, because she loves hard work.

“We gave her a break after Longchamp, but she was very unhappy, and we had to put her back in light training all winter because she was very upset. She’s not like us, craving a break – she loves her work.

“So while she’s fit, she might not just be as razor sharp as she would be after a run or two.

“We’ve half an idea of running at Royal Ascot – then after that, I can’t see her running again until September. We have put her in the Yorkshire Cup, but we have a plan to go to the Vintage Crop at Navan at the end of April – if it came up firm we have the York option.

“It might mean meeting Stradivarius at York, but I can say if we can’t beat him then we haven’t got an Arc filly – we’re thinking big.”

Mullins plots middle-distance path for Princess Zoe

Princess Zoe may start her 2021 campaign in the Alleged Stakes at the Curragh in April.

Trainer Tony Mullins is thinking of dropping his Group One-winning stayer down to a mile and a quarter, because he believes she does not need extreme distances to bring out her best.

Princess Zoe made remarkable progress last year, winning five races in a row culminating in the Group One Prix du Cadran over two and a half miles at ParisLongchamp – twice the distance of the Alleged Stakes.

However, Mullins is keen to see how she performs at middle distances.

“We’re looking at the Alleged Stakes,” the Gowran trainer said in an interview posted on his Twitter account.

“It’s only a mile and a quarter. I don’t know if it’s a winnable distance for her at that level, but we’re going to try it.

“I have always been adamant that she’s as good at a mile and a half as she is at two and a half – so we’re going to set about proving it. If we’re wrong we’ll switch back and use distance races, but her work has shown me she is a Group filly at a mile and a half – and we intend to prove it to the public.”

Princess Zoe was last seen in October, when her winning run ended with honourable defeat over just short of two miles as she tried to double her Group One tally in the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp.

Preparation for the grey mare’s six-year-old campaign is under way, however.

“She’s done loads of slow work in very soft ground and will probably go away now,” added Mullins.

“Jim Bolger very kindly lets us work in his place so she might go there or up the Old Vic on the Curragh and then we’ll decide the next move after the first piece of work.”

Mullins shelves Princess Zoe’s Saudi plan

Tony Mullins has decided against a trip to Saudi Arabia with stable star Princess Zoe.

The mare was one of the stories of the last Flat season, beaten on her first run for Mullins off a mark of 64 before progressing to Group One glory in the Prix du Cadran.

She won five of her seven outings and was last seen finishing fourth in the Prix Royal-Oak, just three weeks after the Cadran.

Mullins had mooted going even further overseas next month, but does not feel the ground will be suitable.

“We’ve decided against it. I’d love to go, but we thought the ground wouldn’t be suitable for her,” said Mullins.

“We want to run her with a cut in the ground, and it’s unlikely over there. We’d have loved the money – but we’ll do right by her.

“I’d imagine we’d start in a suitable race at the Curragh if there is one, if not the Vintage Crop at Navan – that’s the plan.

“If it looks like having a crack at the best over a mile and a half is possible we’ll do it – if not we won’t. We believe she’ll be as effective over a mile and a half, and if we’re wrong the Cadran is always there.

“We’d like to prove it’s possible, but if it’s not that’s it. It’s nice to be thinking of these races, anyway.”

Mullins sets sights on Ascot Gold for Princess Zoe

A trip to Saudi Arabia and a tilt at Gold Cup glory at Royal Ascot are among the potential targets for Princess Zoe next season after her winning run came to an end in France on Sunday.

The Tony Mullins-trained mare has enjoyed a meteoric rise since being bought from Germany this year, progressing from a mark of 64 when second on her Irish debut at Navan in June to claim top-level honours in the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend earlier this month.

The five-year-old was bidding for a sixth successive win on her return to Paris for the Prix Royal-Oak – and while she came up a little short, she was far from disgraced in finishing fourth behind the Mark Johnston-trained Subjectivist.

Mullins said: “She pulled out fine this morning and is in transit as we speak. The people looking after her said she looked a bit tired, which I can believe.

“The way she ran tells me that we’re going to have some action again next year. You might have been worried what she did in the Cadran was a flash in the pan, but she showed me yesterday that she’s a serious trier and we’ll be at the top table again next summer.

“There’s no doubt the 22-day turnaround was just a step too far. I thought she performed admirably under the circumstances.”

With a jumping career now ruled out, Mullins is excited to see what his stable star can achieve on the Flat in 2021, with the staying race on the Saudi Cup undercard at Riyadh a possible first port of call.

Tony Mullins with Princess Zoe at Galway
Tony Mullins with Princess Zoe at Galway (PA)

He added: “She’ll have a holiday now. There is a chance that we could go to Saudi Arabia in February – if we were sure the ground wasn’t going to be firm, that could come onto the table.

“I’d say the Ascot Gold Cup will be a target. I don’t see us having a busy summer, because I want to leave enough petrol there for the likes of the Prix du Cadran and the race yesterday again.

“It’s very early to be making definite plans, but my talk of going for the Arc might be gone off the table for the moment – we’re looking at stamina races.”

Heffernan to deputise on Princess Zoe in Royal-Oak

Seamie Heffernan will take over in the saddle from suspended apprentice Joey Sheridan when Princess Zoe bids to double her Group One tally in the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp.

The Tony Mullins-trained mare has enjoyed a meteoric rise since being bought from Germany this year, progressing from a mark of 64 when second on her Irish debut at Navan in June to claim top-level honours in the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend.

The five-year-old will be bidding for a sixth successive win on her return to Paris on Sunday, but is in need of a new partner after Sheridan received a hefty suspension for his use of the whip aboard her in the Cadran at the start of this month.

Multiple Group One-winning jockey Heffernan has been booked, and got to know his big-race mount in a workout over the weekend.

“She’s as fit as she can be,” said Mullins.

“Seamie sat on her on Sunday – he was very happy with her, and we were very happy with him.

“Joey is obviously suspended, which is a shame. He got six days for too many strikes with the whip, and they doubled the penalty because it was a Group One – which is a rule I couldn’t find in any rule book anywhere. Anyway, that’s the way it goes.

“We’re very happy with the mare. All I can say is that in the back of my mind I’m thinking a two-and-a-half-mile race less than three weeks ago has to take its toll at some stage, but there is no evidence at the moment, so we’re set to go.

“We’ve done all our blood tests, and everything is perfect. I would say the next one is the acid test, in the last 100 metres next Sunday.”

Tony Mullins with Princess Zoe at Galway
Tony Mullins with Princess Zoe at Galway (PA)

Princess Zoe is already priced up as ante-post favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with some bookmakers, and owners Paddy Kehoe and his sister Philomena Crampton are keen on a jumping career.

However, Mullins wants to see how she performs on Sunday before making any firm plans.

He added: “The owner has expressed an interest in that (jumping).

“I’m not saying he’s right or wrong – only that it ups your chance of injury with a very valuable mare.

“We’ll probably readdress it again next Sunday, but at the moment all I can say is it’s not off the table yet.”

Monday Musings: Joy and Pain in the Rain

One of the clichés of modern sport is No Pain No Gain, writes Tony Stafford. At Longchamp on Sunday, because of a batch of contaminated Gain horse feeds with the non-permitted ingredient Zilpaterol, there was plenty of pain (and rain) for the Ballydoyle contingent and all ante-post supporters.

First it was Love, sensibly withdrawn when the ground went from good to soft to truly heavy, in the first couple of days after last week’s offering in this place was rendered non-sensible by the Parisian deluges. Around the same time, Serpentine was supplemented into the race and I recall telling my pal Scott Ellis that it was a master-stroke – he’d be the only pace in the race and would have a similar solo from the front as he had at Epsom.

After all, had he not had the one atypical – in other words running in midfield – dress rehearsal in his course and distance comeback in stablemate Mogul’s Prix Niel after a 71-day gap following his all-the-way Derby victory?

That possible tactic would have probably altered the eventual time of 2 minutes, 39.30 seconds, which apart from Ivanjica, 0.10 sec slower in 1977, was the third slowest since 1941. Puissant Chef with a funereal 2min 44.00 in 1960 holds that dubious honour.

In the event Sottsass followed last year’s third to Waldgeist and Enable by winning the race for Jean-Claude Rouget. In Swoop in second, and the miler Persian King, who was allowed to set a slow pace, filled the places.  Enable, on what will likely be her final valiant try, was sixth of the 11, just ahead of fellow six-year-old and stable-companion Stradivarius in seventh. Meanwhile Japan, Mogul, Sovereign and Serpentine were left kicking their hooves while alternative feed supplies were organised and important autumn and winter schedules were urgently addressed.

Sottsass, a son of the crack French-based stallion Siyouni, is out of a Galileo mare who has also bred the top-class US racemare Sistercharlie, a seven-time Grade 1 winner, including at the Breeders’ Cup, for owner Peter Brant and trainer Chad Brown. Sottsass also runs in the colours of Brant’s White Birch Farm, and given the closeness of the New Yorker to the Coolmore partners, it is hardly a shock to find they negotiated a half-share at the beginning of the year with a future stud career in mind.

Friend Scott was initially tempted by the 14-1, but whether he got round to striking a bet I’m unsure as the 14’s proved elusive. Plenty will have got on however and I’m wondering whether any bookmaker will be kind enough to grant an amnesty over non-runners, especially those caused by what the horses had eaten rather than their ground preferences.

Love lives to fight another day, although with the amount of rain that fell on Ascot before Saturday – more than enough to wash out the important fixture on Arc eve at Her Majesty’s racecourse – whether they’ll want to go to the Champions Day card is another matter. The Breeders’ Cup seems the obvious choice.

I know the Editor dislikes my gravitating into areas of sport, but the almost overlapping 2019-20 and 2020-21 Premier League seasons have already shown enormous effects of Covid-19. For No Pain No Gain – replace it with No Cheer, No Fear. How else would Manchester United (third in the late-finishing previous season) be allowed to keep shipping goals to Tottenham at Old Trafford to the extent of a 6-1 record home loss? Or Liverpool allow a series of defensive mistakes to translate into a 7-2 loss to Aston Villa, one of two 100% teams along with Everton.

As recently as July 11, during the re-convened season interrupted after the weekend before Cheltenham, Aston Villa had 27 points and were 19th of the 20 teams. Bournemouth had 28 and Watford 31. Eight points from their final four matches to the end of July brought them to 35, ending a point above their two rivals who were relegated.

Meanwhile Liverpool ended the season on 99 points, clear of Manchester City and Manchester United. The three elite teams conceded a very similar total of respectively 33, 35 and 36 goals in their 38 matches. Already this season, Liverpool in four games have given away 11 goals, a third of last year’s tally; Man C, seven (so one-fifth of last time) in three and Man U 11, so just under a third of a season’s total, in three games!

Something’s up, be it the short gap between the two seasons, or be it psychological – none of the usual hero-worship but a magnification of the social media attention by fans unable to attend matches, is grinding players down. Three internationals for the elite players over the next two weeks could only magnify the weirdness.

Footballers are being shown to be only human and I marvel at the fact that clubs can routinely consider paying by all accounts up to £100 million to secure the transfer of a single player as Manchester United have been trying all through this latest transfer window.

To pay those sums for players while allowing lower league clubs to go out of business for less than a single player’s weekly salary exposes the immorality of the sport and its television paymasters. Of course, I and probably many of you who read these words are complicit just by paying the monthly subscription.

Xxxx

I had intended leaving mention of the Arc to others this week, but several attempts to track down my intended featured subject came to naught. Nobody answered the phone at Tony Mullins’ stables near Gowran yesterday and I have to suspect that his two-week isolation might have started with him and the owners being slightly tired and emotional.

The reason for his probably delicate condition was easy to understand. In a training career dating back 33 years, Tony Mullins has operated rather in the shadows of his brother Willie, but his skills as a trainer and identifier of a good horse are widely appreciated.

He was a brilliant jockey in his day, and a frequent partner of Dawn Run. The great mare was trained by his father Paddy and, while Tony enjoyed many winning days, the two biggest of her career in the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup were shared by Jonjo O’Neill.

Tony Mullins has never had massive strings, but knew how to develop a young horse, win a race with him and then pass him on. As the years went by the totals dropped but he still has the knack as his handling of the four-year-old hurdler Scalino this year shows. Scalino had run in six maiden hurdles without getting into the first three before turning up at Punchestown early last month in an 18-runner handicap.

Starting 20-1 he was closing up to the leaders when hampered by a loose horse, but soon challenged. He went to the front before two out, soon went clear and was eased on the run-in but still won by 13 lengths at 20-1.

Earlier in the year Mullins took charge of a German mare, a five-year-old who had raced regularly in the two previous seasons earning two wins and eight places from 15 appearances. Mullins had her ready for her Irish debut late in June and obviously thought her capable of a big run off the 64 handicap mark allotted by the Irish handicapper in collaboration with his German counterparts.

Backed to 4-1, she got within a length of the winner in a 16-runner handicap over 1m5f at Navan. That reverse was put right the following month when she won the 15-runner Ladies’ Derby at the Curragh off 70 by five easy lengths.

Three wins followed at Galway. The first two came at the big summer meeting, initially over 2m1f in a Premier handicap off 83 then comfortably a few days later with a 7lb penalty under claiming rider Joey Sheridan. The 18-year-old was again in the saddle when the mare, a daughter of Alan Spence’s tough horse Jukebox Jury, now a successful stallion in Germany, won the Listed Oyster Stakes. That day, back at 1m4f, she beat the mare Barrington Court and Oaks runner-up, Ennistymon.

Mullins didn’t hesitate, aiming at the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on the first day of the Arc meeting. After her run of success, she started the second favourite behind Call The Wind, winner of the race in 2018 and runner-up last year. Joey Sheridan, naturally unable to claim, sat in mid-field in the nine-horse marathon, while prolific winning stayer Alkuin was allowed a long lead. Coming to the straight Sheridan went in pursuit of the leader who still held a big advantage.

In the last furlong, though, the relentless mare cut into the deficit and caught the leader a few yards from the line with Call The Wind toiling 15 lengths back in third and the rest needing a telescope to find them.

Afterwards a jubilant Mullins said he would not hesitate to run Princess Zoe at a mile and a half and cheekily suggested next year’s Arc as a possible target. I wouldn’t put it past this modern-day alchemist to go where Enable couldn’t (not this year anyway!).

Tony Mullins has crossed my path a few times over the decades, usually to my rather than his benefit. There was the time I suggested he might want to land a gamble in the UK, and he earmarked Carla Adams, a mare who had been initially with Ginger McCain, to fit the bill. She had a couple of runs in low-grade hurdles for Wilf Storey, finishing third in the second of them. The day was set for Hexham but she disappointed. Wilf said he couldn’t work out why she never seemed to get any fitter and a few months later when the foal came, we had our answer.

It was more than a decade after that, crossing towards the conveniences at Cheltenham, when Tony stopped me, interrupting his own call saying, ”Wait, I need to talk to you.” As I’ve recorded here more than once he said I shouldn’t miss his one in the last.

I was with Raymond Tooth that day, watching Punjabi finish fourth in the Triumph Hurdle a few weeks after I’d first met him when the horse won at Kempton. Before Raymond left the track, I passed on Tony’s advice on Pedrobob, and the horse duly won the County Hurdle from 27 others under Paul Carberry at 12-1. On the Monday morning Raymond called and offered me the job as his racing advisor.

Until Saturday, Pedrobob was probably Tony’s most valued winner, but the £87k prize for the owners, a Group 1 win, and what more might be to come with Princess Zoe must be the supreme moment for this lovely man. I couldn’t have been happier. For Tony, over the years there’s been plenty of pain, so at last some real joy in the rain.