Princess Zoe team consider Saudi option – but Arc is main objective for 2021

Horse Racing Princess Zoe
Princess Zoe: Prix du Cadran winner may start 2020 season early in Saudi Arabia. Photo: France Galop/Scoopdyga (Elliot Chouraqui)

By Jon Lees

Ireland: A return to Paris with a possible tilt at the Arc is Princess Zoe’s principal target for 2021 – but trainer Tony Mullins has put the Saudi Cup meeting’s richly endowed staying prize back onto the list of potential objectives for his star racemare after having to cut short her winter holiday.

The five-year-old grey had been given a well-earned break from training after her extraordinary exploits this year, in which she rose from 64-rated handicapper to the G1 winner of France’s top staying prize, the Prix du Cadran.

However, Mullins found she couldn’t take to being a lady of leisure and last week brought her back into regular exercise at his yard in Gowran, Co Kilkenny – as a result of which he is to take another look at the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh on February 20.

“We are looking at the Saudi Cup meeting but due to the type of conformation she has we are trying to avoid running her on good to firm ground,” he said. “The money is there and we are very interested in the race. We are going to have a discussion but good to firm is a problem for us.”

Princess Zoe raced for two seasons in Germany before she joined Mullins, who gave her her first start in a 1m5f Navan handicap in June.

She finished second first time out but from there won her next five starts, including twice in four days during the Galway Festival, then a Listed prize, culminating at ParisLongchamp during Arc weekend, where she got up in the final strides to claim a first G1 triumph for her trainer.

A return to Paris, where the ground was heavy in October, is firmly inked into next year’s diary – and a tilt at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is a possibility.

“It’s the Arc we are ultimately thinking of,” said Mullins, who is eyeing a return to European action closer to home at The Curragh.

“At the moment we are looking at the Tattersalls Gold Cup. That’s only a mile and a quarter but we want her to run on a galloping track with a cut in the ground so that might suit, or she could go for the Vintage Crop Stakes (1m6f) in Navan. One of those would be the stepping stone to the Ascot Gold Cup or the Hardwicke Stakes.

“That might sound confusing but we are not dispensing with a mile and a half yet. Because she ran in the Prix du Cadran and Prix Royal Oak it might look to everyone else that she is a stayer, but we are certainly not ruling out a mile and half for her.

“If she can prove herself in the Tattersalls Gold Cup we might go to the Hardwicke and then the Arc. If she got well outpaced at the Curragh then we’d probably aim at the Ascot Gold Cup.”

The fastest surface Princess Zoe encountered this year was good to yielding and both her wins in Germany were on soft ground.

“She certainly won’t run on firm and we don’t want to run her on good to firm,” said Mullins. “But she doesn’t have to run on heavy ground. We would like a bit done as early as possible, lighten off during the middle of the summer and then come back for September and October.

“We have a sea sand gallop which seems to suit her very well. We would be working in what most Flat trainers would call very heavy ground. That doesn’t mean she has to run on that but it suits for her training.”

The mare had her last start back at ParisLongchamp in the G1 Prix Royal Oak, where she finished fourth three weeks after the Cadran.

Mullins said: “We were really happy with her before the race but when she got there we found the second trip to Paris took its toll. I would say she was 15-20 kilos lighter, which is not ideal for a hard-fit mare.

“She likes hard work and being fit so when I gave her a break she got in bad humour in the stable and wasn’t eating up properly. We would have her on the walker an hour each morning and out in the paddock. I know her inside out and she was not happy.

“We’ve started riding her out now and she is much more content, eating up and back in her rhythm. She is just one of those that likes to be busy.”

Princess Zoe beat Alkuin by half a length in the Cadran with Call The Wind more than 15 lengths back in third. In February Call The Wind had been the inaugural winner of the Red Sea Handicap, earning a first prize of $1.5m.

The race, staged outside the regular European turf season, proved no obstacle to future success. Twilight Payment finished seventh on the all new King Abdulaziz turf track and ended his campaign by winning the Melbourne Cup for trainer Joseph O’Brien in November. Melbourne Cup regular Prince Of Arran was third in Riyadh and third at Flemington, while another Spring Carnival winner True Self, trained by Mullins’ brother Willie, was sixth.

“We have plans next autumn and I can’t see her being at her best in February, June for Ascot and again in the autumn, as good as she is,” Mullins said. “But Twilight Payment showed it can be done.

“I didn’t put much thought into Saudi Arabia but now that she is back in work earlier than I imagined we are giving it another thought.

“I am going to have a word with them [Saudi Cup organisers] again to see exactly how much watering they are doing, but I would imagine they are not going to make the ground soft for us. We would have to make a decision soon if she is going to be trained hard for that.”

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