THE Group 1-winning mare Princess Zoe remains on course to make her hurdling debut at Punchestown on Monday, her first step on a potential path to the Cheltenham Festival.

Trainer Tony Mullins had raised the possibility of Princess Zoe being sent over hurdles after Paddy Kehoe and Philomena Crampton’s high-class flat performer was bought back for 300,000gns at last year’s Tattersalls December Mares Sale, but the 2020 Prix du Cadran heroine has yet to be seen over jumps.

The eight-year-old was due to have two crucial schooling sessions this week and, all going well, Mullins has indicated that the Punchestown Members Club Mares Maiden Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles on Monday will be her first step towards a possible crack at the Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins said: “We have her back in training at the moment as the owners would like to have a go at hurdling. We have our eye on a mares’ maiden hurdle next Monday at Punchestown if all goes to plan. We’re also looking at options at Fairyhouse (February 8th) and Thurles (February 9th) as well. She will be out sooner rather than later because the only reason she is going hurdling is with a view to Cheltenham. I think we’re leaning towards going there (Cheltenham) with just the one run

“The Johnstown Hurdle (at Naas) is an option on February 26th, but it’s quite tight for Cheltenham. It’s different for those in England, but we have to travel as well, so having a run within 21 days of her prime target is not ideal.”

One-time Derby favourite and Group 2 Beresford Stakes winner High Definition last month managed to make a successful transition to hurdling from top-level flat racing, and Mullins is eager to see if Princess Zoe can make her mark in high-class company over jumps.

“It’s very rare that a Group 1-winning flat horse jumps a hurdle,” said Mullins. “The last couple of Group 1 winners I can remember over hurdles are Kasbah Bliss and Wicklow Brave. Very few Group 1 winners do this, particularly mares. The owners are staunch National Hunt fans and I’ve gone along with it, but I’m quite worried about a Group 1 winner jumping hurdles. I’m not against it but it wasn’t my call, I wouldn’t do it myself.

Cheltenham target

“That’s what she was originally bought for (jumping), but she’s a Group 1, Group 3 and listed winner on the flat. The owners would like to go jumping if there was a chance she would make Cheltenham, so we will give it a go.”

“As I said to Paddy [Kehoe, joint-owner], I’m not interested in going hurdling just to win a race or two. If she’s not a Cheltenham contender, I’d like to stop.”

Although Mullins has entered Princess Zoe for the Albert Bartlett over three miles at the Festival, the trainer believes the mare’s class will see her prove versatile over obstacles and he would have no hesitation running over an extended two miles in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

He added: “There’s nothing dyed in the wool but, having won a Prix du Cadran over two-and-a-half, the three miles of the Albert Bartlett wouldn’t be a worry. And having won a listed race over a mile and a half, I’m not worried about the Mares’ Novice either. Early on the Albert Bartlett looked the weaker of the three novice hurdles and I just wasn’t against it, so we gave her an entry. We’re keeping our options open.”

Current betting

Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: 10/11 Facile Vega, 5 Marine Nationale, 14 Rare Edition, Tahmuras, 20 Gaelic Warrior, High Definition, Impaire Et Passe, Irish Point, 25 bar.

Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle: 3 Hermes Allen, 4 Impaire Et Passe, 7 Gaelic Warrior, 8 Champ Kiely, 14 Facile Vega, Good Land, Inthepocket, 25 bar.

Triumph Hurdle: 11/8 Lossiemouth, 9/2 Blood Destiny, 10 Gala Marceau, 12 Jupiter Du Gite, 14 Comfort Zone, 16 Scriptwriter, 20 bar.

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle: 11/2 Hiddenvalley Lake, 7 Embassy Gardens, 10 Sandor Clegane, Three Card Brag, 12 Corbetts Cross, Grangeclare West, 14 American Mike, Favori De Champdou, 16 Weveallbeencaught, 20 bar.