Ascot Wednesday \ Rory Delargy

PRINCESS Zoe ensured that Willie wouldn’t be the only Mullins sibling hogging the headlines in Punchestown week, as Pat Kehoe’s game mare provided Tony Mullins and Joey Sheridan with a dramatic Group 3 victory which sets the seven-year-old up for another crack at the Gold Cup here in June, a race she finished an honourable second in last year.

The 17/2 chance had to use all her courage to hang on in a race where the first four home were separated by just over half a length.

If that hadn’t shredded Tony’s nerves, there was the small matter of a stewards’ enquiry to survive after she had drifted toward the inside rail in the final furlong.

This afforded little room for the challenging Enemy (Ian Williams/Will Buick), and that enquiry was made more fraught as that rival was just beaten for second by the fast-finishing Quickthorn (Hughie Morrison/Tom Marquand).

Perhaps the thought of awarding the race to one beaten on merit swayed the stewards towards Princess Zoe, but replays show that while the gap on the rails was small, Buick was able to keep riding, and on balance, the decision to allow the result to stand seems the correct one.

The winning trainer was in ebullient mood, and has his sights firmly set on the Gold Cup saying: “We came here to win, and Princess Zoe was fit enough to, but if I’m any good at training hopefully she’ll improve for Royal Ascot. The extra half a mile will make a difference and I feel we’ll have more in the tank.

“I did very little with her from Saudi Arabia to here. I’m delighted we came here and believe we’ll improve. I was anxious about the ground being too quick, so hopefully she’ll be fine in the morning and the whole build-up can be about the Gold Cup.”

Bears goes again

The Group 3 Commonwealth Cup Trial – and what a terrible idea it is to detract from the prestige of a Group 3 by attaching the word ‘trial’ to it – saw all four runners making their seasonal debuts.

The best of them on juvenile form, Go Bears Go (Dave Loughnane/Rossa Ryan), maintained his advantage with a hard-fought length-and-a-half win over Hierarchy (Hugo Palmer/Cieren Fallon).

The 5/4 favourite made all, but looked sure to face a stern challenge when coming under pressure at the quarter-mile pole, only to find plenty for pressure and keep his pursuers at bay.

This wasn’t a jaw-dropping performance by any means, but Go Bears Go showed himself to be a fighter last year, and this win proves he’s trained on well.

More will be required if he attempts a follow up in the Commonwealth Cup, but he won’t be beaten for heart on this showing.

Dave Loughnane confirmed that a return to Ascot in June was on the agenda, and praised his colt’s toughness, as he told reporters:

“Rossa said it’s the first time he’s ridden him, and he thought he was in trouble. He’s so tough. I’d have preferred a lead, but he’s so much pace and tactical speed and, as soon as Ehraz headed him, it was never in doubt.

“He’d run through a brick wall for you and is as honest as the day is long. I love him to bits, and we did enough to get the job done today, but he’s not fully furnished yet.”

Mandate back on track

The Listed Paradise Stakes saw smart 2020 juvenile New Mandate (Ralph Beckett/Frankie Dettori) get his career back on track having raced only once last year.

The 6/1 shot was held up behind favourite Valiant Prince, and made his challenge as the Godolphin runner began to weaken inside the final furlong and a half.

Sir Busker (William Knight/Jim Crowley) briefly hit the front at that stage, but was immediately challenged by the winner, who kept on grittily to withhold the runner-up’s rally by a neck.

New Mandate flopped in the Jersey Stakes here last June, and has been absent since, as his trainer explained: “He was a very sick horse after the Jersey last year and spent two months in a field. He wasn’t right at all, and we never really got to the bottom of it. I hadn’t done a whole lot with him.

“What we do next is the question and he’s in the Lockinge and Queen Anne and we’ll see how we go. It was a mickey mouse race, but that wasn’t his fault. I just wanted some cover today and you can see he has quite a bit of his winter coat to shift.”