Princess Zoe was the apple of Tony Mullins' eye and the great success story of his career as a trainer so far.
The grey mare won the hearts and minds of many in the racing world owing to the colourful and happy-go-lucky nature of her long-time trainer.
Her future, it seems, lies now with Paul Nolan after owner Paddy Kehoe elected to move her from Mullins' base in Kilkenny at the end of the 2022/23 jumps season.
|What||Mares' Hurdle 2024|
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||4.10, Tuesday 12th March, 2024|
|How to watch||bet365 Sports Live Streaming, ITV Racing & Racing TV|
|Odds||Lossiemouth 7/2, Ashroe Diamond 5/1, Echoes In Rain 8/1, Love Envoi 12/1, You Wear It Well 12/1, Marie's Rock 14/1, Zenta 14/1, Luccia 16/1|
Princess Zoe's now former 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.
Tony is perhaps 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 and 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.
Princess Zoe arrived in Ireland in late 2019 and would make her debut for Mullins in June 2020, not long after racing resumed post-pandemic. 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 missed only one ride on Princess Zoe in her 13 Flat 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.
Horse Racing Profile: State Man
Horse Racing profile: Shishkin
Horse Racing profile: Bravemansgame
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'.
She went to Cheltenham afterwards and was fifth in Mares' Novices Hurdle won by You Wear It Well, beaten just over four-lengths, before being pulled up at Fairyhouse in a Grade 1 novice on her final start of the season. She is a 50/1 chance to win the Mares' Hurdle back in Cheltenham next season.
In May 2023, Mullins was left devastated after owner Kehoe elected to remove Princess Zoe from his yard.
The trainer suggested they had differing opinions on whether she should continue her career over hurdles or not.
The trainer admits it has left a massive void in his life to see 'Zoe' move on, but he wishes her well and says that even allowing for his experiences riding the great Dawn Run, she will forever be the horse that means the most to him.
"She was more special than Dawn Run. I never had a relationship with a horse like I had with her," he told Racing TV.
"Dawn Run was a better horse and won bigger races, but Princess Zoe was very, very special around our place. She brought us all over the world and with a chance – not as a hanger on.
"You miss a top class horse around the place, as a friend. I loved the mare more than any horse I ever had."
Become a member of the world's favourite online sports betting brandJoin
Min deposit requirement. Free Bets are paid as Bet Credits and are available for use upon settlement of qualifying bets. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply.