Princess Zoe had to settle for a share of the honours on her jumping debut at Punchestown on Monday, after a dead-heat finish to the mares' maiden hurdle.
Wow! ??— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 30, 2023
Princess Zoe dead-heat's with Ladybank on her first outing over hurdles as the pair fight out an incredible finish at @punchestownrace ??@tonymullins84 | @dan2231 | @HenrydeBromhead | @rachaelblackmor pic.twitter.com/J7WMI4pGY6
The Tony Mullins-trained grey has been a fantastic servant over the past four years, with a Group 1 triumph in the 2020 Prix du Cadran the highlight of a Flat career that also saw he win the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and finish second to Subjectivist in the Gold Cup.
She looked set to be retired for broodmare duties in 2023, but failed to meet her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale, prompting connections into a rethink.
Following a pleasing schooling session last week, Princess Zoe was given the green light to give hurdling a go with a view to a potential appearance at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Despite her exploits on the level, she was not even favourite for her first start in the National Hunt sphere, with the Willie Mullins-trained Pink In The Park preferred at a shade of odds-on at 10/11.
The top two in the market were the first two in the race for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, with 5-4 chance Princess Zoe asserting into a clear lead on the second circuit under Danny Mullins.
Having jumped adequately in the main, the eight-year-old looked to have victory sewn up after travelling strongly into the straight, but she flattened the final flight, giving Henry de Bromhead’s Ladybank – carrying the Honeysuckle colours of Kenny Alexander under Rachael Blackmore – a real shot on the run-in.
There was nothing to choose between the pair on the approach to the winning line and they flashed by as one. After a tense wait, the judge confirmed he could not split them and declared a dead-heat.
And Mullins, who admitted to being nervous about whether his stable star would take to the jumping game, is confident there is more to come from her ahead of the Festival.
He said: “We’re very happy with her. Danny said he thought she was a little guessy on her own at one or two of them.
“At the moment we’re thinking of the mares’ novice at Cheltenham but it’s not definite. It looks the logical way as opposed to the Albert Bartlett.
“I thought she was a little gassy having not run for a while. That might have emptied her a little.
“We had all her work done at home but she needs that run to bring her to herself. Danny said when she was gassy early on he’d let her go to the front and then she just had nothing with her. I think it was a very good performance to jump out and make all.”
He added: “I’m very happy with her. She’s taken to jumping and she’s brave, usually they might be ducking at hurdles but she didn’t do any of that.
“I don’t think she’ll run again before Cheltenham.”
Looking beyond the Festival, Mullins is not ruling out the possibility of Princess Zoe reverting to the Flat for some of the major staying prizes later in the year.
He added: “Paddy (Kehoe, part-owner) has always said to me that as long as she’s able to run breeding is only secondary to him. Who am I to complain?
“It’s great for the likes of me because we’ll never have the likes of her again. She’s just a great mare.
“Something did happen last year (on the flat), we never noticed in her work but maybe Kyprios is such a powerhouse that it emptied her.
“Every time we thought we were going to get back and show him but we never did. I’d say Kyprios is one of the all-time greats, that’s what I think. We might have another go at him.”