Princess Zoe could return to the Flat after Cheltenham Festival tilt

Cheltenham Festival raider Princess Zoe could return to the Flat in the summer, with the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot again on the agenda.

Connections of the popular grey are currently mulling over options for Cheltenham with Mares' Novices' Hurdle or the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle the likely destination.

She was runner-up to Subjectivist in 2021 Gold Cup and beaten six and three-quarter lengths by Kyprios in the two-and-a-half mile feature last June.

Trainer Tony Mullins fears the Aidan O'Brien-trained winner will be near impossible to beat, yet is not going to duck the challenge.

"Paddy (Kehoe, part-owner) has said to me from the very start that racing is his priority and breeding is a lovely little added extra, but is the least thing on his mind," said Mullins.

"As long as we feel she is safe and sound to stay racing, he wants to stay racing. He is a racing man and and great racing fan.

"Kyprios blew us out of the water altogether last year. I think he is an absolute phenomenon. I would put him above Yeats, Stradivarius and all of them. I think he's the best stayer I've ever seen.

"He is so superior from anything we know of at the moment. He was better at Longchamp than he was at the start of the season, so he is only getting better.

"We are going to enjoy our racing and if he's there it is going to be a pity - but we'll give him a go!"

Mullins also believes Princess Zoe has a "very serious winning chance" in whatever Cheltenham Festival race she runs in, with the Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle her likely landing spot.

The eight-year-old made a winning hurdling debut, dead-heating in the a mares' maiden at Leopardstown, having previously been a regular top-class performer on the Flat, where she secured a Group One triumph in the 2020 Prix du Cadran, as well as landing the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.

While she was set to be retired for broodmare duties in 2023, she failed to meet her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale, prompting connections into a rethink.

Though she made a winning start over hurdles, sharing the spoils with Ladybank in the extended two-and-a-half-mile contest, bookmakers were largely unimpressed, offering a general 20/1 for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett.

Mullins is eyeing the former, however, and said: "We were delighted with the run and relieved to get the dead-heat.

"Her preparation didn't go perfect, in so far as we had a frozen week and a washed-out week the first two weeks of January.

"I thought it was a fantastic performance. Obviously, the betting suggests that I'm the only one impressed. I was surprised that she didn't shorten, but maybe they're right.

"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."

The eight-year-old has the option of the three-mile Grade One Albert Bartlett and the Grade Two Mares' Novices' race, also known as the Dawn Run, which is run over a distance of two miles and one furlong.

Mullins is now swaying towards Princess Zoe taking on her own sex.

He added: "I thought the Albert Bartlett looked quite weak a month and a half ago, but there are a couple of horses there, Willie's (Mullins) horse that won at Thurles (Embassy Gardens) and a couple of other ones I saw won in England. It is now a stronger Albert Bartlett.

"So 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.

"We have the one beautiful thing that very few have - we know we have the class to win over two (miles), we know we have the stamina to win over three. We don't care if it is good to firm - we have won Group races on the Flat with that - we don't care if it's heavy, we've won Group Ones on that. So, nothing matters to us now, only our preparation.

"I would say we are confident that everything has gone right. We'd love to have had two or three runs over hurdles, but considering everything, we are confident.

"If her preparation goes right, I will be interested to see what could beat her.

"She has travelled a lot and she has never had a problem with travelling. We have most things covered now and if everything goes right for the next three weeks, we'll be there quite happy to take on whatever arrives."

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