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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

Princess Zoe completes meteoric rise with last-gasp Cadran verdict

Princess Zoe completed her fairytale story with a dramatic last-gasp victory in the Group One Qatar Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp.

Ridden by apprentice Joey Sheridan, who was unable to claim his allowance, Princess Zoe reeled in long-time leader Alkuin just yards from the finish to snatch the two-and-a-half mile stamina test.

Rated just 64 when runner-up on her first outing for Irish trainer Tony Mullins after been previously trained in Germany, the five-year-old has gone from strength to strength in a short space of time.

Having won three handicaps, Princess Zoe lifted a Listed contest at Galway on her latest outing, tempting connections to aim high. They were proved right as she reduced a big deficit to score by half a length at the highest level.

Princess Zoe was at least six lengths down with less than two furlongs to run, but she would not be denied as she reeled in Alkuin. Favourite Call The Wind was a further 15 lengths back in third.

Mullins said: “I certainly didn’t think three months ago this as going to happen, but Joey Sheridan came down to work her last week and when she pulled up, I said we were going to win in France.

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“She just kept improving so fast, even before the Listed race she won – I had been eyeing it because she was improving at such a rate I wasn’t able to keep up to her.

“As the season was closing, and she was improving so fast, I was just very confident.”

The original plan to send Princess Zoe for next year’s Cheltenham Festival has been scrapped, at least for the time being.

“The owner (Paddy Kehoe) and his sister (Philomena) are huge Cheltenham fans and we had her pencilled in. Then she started improving so fast I said to Paddy ‘we’ll go to France and if she wins I’ll be recommending she doesn’t go jumping’, not for the moment anyway,” said Mullins.

The County Kilkenny handler will even consider next year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe if the ground was suitable.

“Our plan now is to go anywhere there is not firm ground. I don’t mind good ground. That may even be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next year,” he said.

“This is just an unbelievable mare. I just can’t explain how I’m feeling now.”

Mullins recalled a big day as a jump jockey when he rode Dawn Run to victory in the French Champion Hurdle at nearby Auteuil for his late father, Paddy.

“At Auteuil, on the other side of the Bois de Boulogne, I won the French Champion Hurdle on Dawn Run in 1984, so it’s 36 years and that was a great day too,” he said.

“When you’re training seven days a week with the horse, you’re so much more involved and worried all the time.

“A jockey is very important, but he sits up at the last minute. As a jockey I used to love it – as a trainer, to win a Group One is just off the scale.”

Sheridan, 18, cannot believe his luck in only his second season as a jockey.

“I got a lot of confidence off Tony. I rode her work the last time. He couldn’t have had her any more right for today,” said the 5lb claimer.

“On her form, she had every right to be here.

“It means everything – it’s a dream come true. From riding ponies at home, seven years later to be winning a Group One is the stuff of dreams. It’s a fairytale. It’s only my second year riding.”

Princess Zoe aiming for fairytale Cadran victory

Tony Mullins is one man who will not be disappointed with the prospect of heavy ground ahead of Princess Zoe’s step up to Group One company in the Prix du Cadran on Saturday.

The mare has progressed from being beaten off a handicap mark of just 64 on her first run for Mullins after arriving from Germany to winning her her next four races, including two at the Galway Festival in the space of a week.

She handled the step up to Listed company last time out on heavy ground, and Mullins hopes similar conditions at ParisLongchamp may just slow the favourite Call To Wind down a little.

Princess Zoe has made giant strides this season
Princess Zoe has made giant strides this season (PA Wire)

“I certainly never expected to be in a Group One with her, but when we started training her I knew we had a very good handicapper. I certainly didn’t think we’d be here within three months, second-favourite too,” said Mullins.

“Admittedly it was a much lower-grade race, but the evidence from Galway was that she was only starting to open up over two-miles-one and it is a savage hill there.

“From that we are confident she’ll stay (two and half miles), but you can never be sure until you dip your toe in the water.”

Call To Wind won the race two years ago for Freddy Head on good ground – but was beaten into second on heavy 12 months ago.

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Mullins went on: “He (Call The Wind) has a high rating (115), but I’ve been through his form meticulously over the last few days and I don’t think he’s run to above 110 when there’s been a good cut in the ground.

“He’s still a formidable horse, even with cut, but I’m hoping, because we’ve no worries on the ground, it might just level it off and give us a serious chance.”

Apprentice jockey Joey Sheridan has ridden Princess Zoe the last twice and connections felt no need to change a winning partnership, especially given the regard in which he holds the youngster.

Muillins said: “We have the utmost confidence in Joey, I think he’s a star in the making but he’s a long way to go. It’s only every 10 or 15 years you see a star coming through and I think I see one here.

“He’s had three Listed winners this year, not using his claim, on three different horses which is exceptional for a 5lb claimer. And he’s not riding for the top stables, it’s rare what he’s done.

“It’s massively exciting for us and I hope it is for everyone around us as well.”

David Menuisier saddles Wonderful Tonight at ParisLongchamp
David Menuisier saddles Wonderful Tonight at ParisLongchamp (Edward Whitaker/PA)

The other Group One on the card, the Prix de Royallieu, features a five-strong British challenge which includes the Ralph Beckett-trained Manuela De Vega and John Gosden’s German Oaks winner Miss Yoda.

David Menuisier saddles Wonderful Tonight, winner of a Deauville Group Three and fifth in the Prix Vermeille. She is stepping up to a mile and six furlongs for the first time.

The trainer said: “It’s not going to be a walk in the park as it’s a Group One and it will be a competitive race. The trip is the real question mark. If I had the guts I would have waited until the mile-and-a-half race at Ascot on Champions Day, but though it’s normally soft it might not be.

“She was strong past the line in the Minerve and the ground that day was really bad, so she should stay the trip, but until you try, you don’t know.

“She has been great and she has not grown into her coat yet, so she still looks amazing as ever. We’ve not done a great deal since the Vermeille, where she ran a stormer, and a career-best as she was put up 1lb – and that was on ground that was not in her favour.

“Hopefully she will run another big race at the weekend.”

The Revenant (in red) was second on Champions Day at Ascot
The Revenant (in red) was second on Champions Day at Ascot (Simon Cooper/PA)

Francis-Henri Graffard, meanwhile, brings his stable star The Revenant back after a lay off as he aims to to win the Prix Daniel Wildenstein for a second successive year. He was last seen finishing second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

“He was very impressive last year. He’s a fantastic horse, but this season has been difficult as we knew he wasn’t going to have his ground,” Graffard told Sky Sports Racing.

“I feel he’s in the same form as last year. He’s worked really well, he will love the ground and I’m happy with his condition.

“Will he need the race? I don’t think so, but we’ll see on Saturday. He’s such a nice horse. We’ll see if he goes back to Ascot. We are running with a very fresh horse this year.”

Princess Zoe on course for Cadran outing

Princess Zoe will bid to crown her fairytale campaign with Group One glory in the Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp on Saturday.

Formerly trained in Germany, the daughter of Jukebox Jury was given a mark of just 64 by the Irish handicapper and finished second on her first start for Tony Mullins at Navan in June.

Three months on, the grey has earned a three-figure figure rating with four consecutive victories – winning the Ladies Derby and landing two valuable handicaps at the Galway Festival, before returning to Ballybrit to land a Listed prize earlier this month.

Having come within half a length of of winning the Cesarewitch with Party Playboy last autumn, Mullins considered sending Princess Zoe to Newmarket in a bid to go one better, but she is instead set to head for France on Arc weekend.

Mullins said: “We took her out of the Cesarewitch as she had top weight and I thought it was a bit much to ask.

“We nearly won it last year with another horse for the same owner (Party Playboy), so it would have been lovely to go back. The lack of prize money was a big factor and I just felt at the end of a long year, we’d be better going for a bit of black type.

“At the moment our intention is to go for the Prix du Cadran. She’s moved from a low handicapper to the top of the handicap, then she moved nicely to Listed class and now we’re just hoping she can move into Group class.

“We can nearly guarantee there’ll be a cut in the ground in Longchamp. As long as there’s no firmness in the ground, we’re happy to go.”

The Kilkenny-based trainer confirmed leading Irish apprentice Joey Sheridan is set to keep the ride in Paris.

He added: “A good few jockeys have been looking for the ride, which tells me there’s going to be very few runners. But at the moment, my owner is happy to leave Joey Sheridan on, even though he can’t claim.

“Joey is a 5lb claimer, but he has already won three Listed races this year with no claim, which is phenomenal. I can’t ever remember an apprentice winning three Listed races when still having a 5lb claim.”