It would be hard to imagine a more popular winner cropping up at this year's Cheltenham Festival than Princess Zoe should she manage to stage a remarkable raid on the famous Gloucestershire venue.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
Princess Zoe is the apple of Tony Mullins' eye and the high-class mare has made a relatively belated switch to jumping hurdles, with Cheltenham immediately ring-fenced as the destination of choice.
|What||Jack de Bromhead Mares Novices' Hurdle|
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||4.50, Thursday 16th March, 2023|
|How to watch||bet365 Sports Live Streaming, ITV Racing & Racing TV|
|Odds||Luccia 3/1, Ashroe Diamond 4/1, Night And Day 7/1, Deeply Superficial 12/1, Lot Of Joy 12/1, You Wear It Well, 20/1, Princess Zoe 25/1|
Princess Zoe's trainer is Tony Mullins, brother of the one and only Willie, but operating in a parallel universe in comparison to that behemoth of the jumps training ranks.
Tony's operation in Co Kilkenny is minute by comparison to that of his brother in nearby Carlow, with just 35 runners sent out this jumps season so far as we arrive in mid-February.
It just so happens that one of those runners was the mare Princess Zoe – and she carries the Festival dream of this particular Mullins.
Tony is best known as having been the regular rider of Dawn Run back in his days as a jockey, albeit he suffered infamously at the hands of the great mare's owner.
Mullins partnered Dawn Run in 15 of her 21 career victories but was jocked off by owner Charmian Hill on all three of her Cheltenham Festival appearances, where she became the only horse to win the Champion Hurdle & Gold Cup in 1984 and 1986 respectively.
Trained by his father, Paddy, the decision by the owner to remove his son for those famous wins 'ran deep' in the Mullins household and was never talked about even as years went by.
Given his association with that most famous of Cheltenham Festival mares, how fitting would it be if Tony Mullins' own star female could conjure up a famous Cotswolds win in 2023?
Princess Zoe arrived in Ireland in late 2019 and would make her debut for Mullins in June 2020. She was beaten in a Navan handicap that afternoon off a mark of 64 but it was the beginning of a special season.
She would win her next five starts, progressing through the ranks at the Curragh and Galway over the summer, winning twice at Ballybrit during the Galway Races in under a week, before a Listed victory at the same course in early September.
That prompted a swoop for the Group 1 Prix du Cadran at Longchamp on Arc weekend and Princess Zoe delivered the statement win of her career.
In a nod to his own past, Mullins stuck with Joey Sheridan – then a young claiming rider – for the trip to France and that top-level win despite suggestions he might opt for a more experienced pilot.
In fact, Sheridan has missed only one ride on Princess Zoe in her 13 starts since that day, and that was owing to a suspension.
Together; Zoe, Tony and Joey were second in a Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2021, won a Group 3 at the same venue in 2022 and generally ran for their lives in esteemed group-race company throughout.
The popular grey was set to be retired for broodmare duties in 2023, but she failed to meet her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale, prompting connections into a rethink.
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Princess Zoe achieved a peak Flat rating of 114 and, given who trained her, there was always a suggestion lurking beneath the surface as to whether or not there was any temptation to try going over hurdles.
It took a while but on 30th January 2023, that day came at Punchestown in a 2m4½f maiden. It was eagerly awaited and Princess Zoe didn't disappoint. She made most of the running and looked sure to win well, before dead-heating with 40/1 shot Ladybank, in the Honeysuckle colours of Kenny Alexander.
It was a contest she could easily have lost, given the way it transpired, but she was game for rider Danny Mullins and her trainer was 'very happy' admitting that she 'had all the work done, but always needs a run'.
The Cheltenham dream was alive and well. She's entered in the Jack de Bromhead Mares Novices' Hurdle, a race she's 25/1 to win, and the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle – where she trades at 33/1 for glory.
Mullins, a man never short of a word on any subject, admits he's leaning towards staying against her own sex next month.
"I couldn't be happier. Our preparation went right, our race went right and if everything goes right from here on in, I still believe that she is there with a very serious winning chance," said the trainer.
"While we are not writing anything in stone, we are now training her with the mares' novice in mind. If a couple of hotpots come out of the Albert Bartlett, we'll see."