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‘My legs nearly gave away under me, I’ll never forget that feeling’ – Tony Mullins

Excited trainer hopes lightning can strike twice in Paris as ‘Zoe’ bids to upset the odds again


Princess Zoe and Joseph Sheridan with winning connections after victory in this year's Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot. Photo: Mark Cranham

Princess Zoe and Joseph Sheridan with winning connections after victory in this year's Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot. Photo: Mark Cranham

Princess Zoe and Joseph Sheridan with winning connections after victory in this year's Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot. Photo: Mark Cranham

There is little hesitation when Tony Mullins is asked for his own highlight from Princess Zoe’s rags-to-riches racing career, and he doesn’t give the obvious answer.

Her Group One victory in the 2020 Prix du Cadran at Longchamp was a thing of equine beauty, but it was a few days prior when Mullins was “the most excited I ever felt in racing” after watching the grey mare complete her final preparations.

Like a manager having just overseen their team near their peak on the eve of an All-Ireland final, Mullins was left legless after ‘Zoe’ lit up his Kilkenny gallop and told him something special was on the horizon.

“My legs nearly gave away from under me because I knew that we were going . . . I’ll never forget the feeling that morning, I don’t think I’ve ever had a feeling like it in racing all my life,” Mullins reveals.

“I knew we had a serious chance coming up in the big one in Paris and that morning was more exciting than when she actually passed the post in France. I suddenly knew that we had a serious contender for a Group One, it was a powerful feeling.

“I’ll never forget it, that minute or two after she pulled up – that is the most excited I ever felt in racing since I was born, it was just unbelievable. That surge of excitement, I never got it before or since.”

Head girl Jackie Carter had been reluctant to travel to France prior to that amid Covid concerns, but Mullins told her in no uncertain terms staying at home was not an option, and history was later made.

Here was a horse that was “second-hand and fully exposed” when bought from Germany – Mullins considered sending her back after seeing her “crooked legs” in his Gowran yard – but she hit the equine jackpot.

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Mullins reckons the odds of what transpired are “a million to one” as her handicap mark flew from 64 to 114, with two wins at the Galway Festival setting off a chain of events that have changed his training career.

“I was very worried when I saw her first and thought, ‘what are we going to do with this yoke?’ And the first morning I worked her, she just streaked away from everything. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Mullins says of his stable star.

“It was just a whirlwind, it all happened so fast. When we’ve had, generally speaking, ordinary Flat horses for 30 years and to suddenly come across one like this, it’s hard to believe.”

Hers is an extraordinary story with a fan club the length and breadth of the country as the video updates made by Mullins and racing journalist Dave Keena give punters an insight into what makes her tick.

Mullins admits she is “a bit of a diva” as she craves her routine, with home work completed each morning at nine before heading for the walker, while she must go to the paddock for an hour every day or “she’ll stamp her foot in the stable until she’s let out”.

Mullins often thought that training the seven-year-old, owned by his long-time patron Paddy Kehoe, was pressure “but I’m starting to realise that it’s just a privilege to have the like of her” even if it can take its toll.

“I’m a great man to go out for a night but I don’t know whether it’s the relief or the excitement when she wins or runs well but I usually only drink water that night, I’m not able to have a drink,” he chuckles. “I don’t know, I do be on such a high when she does it . . . all the others would be drinking and I drink water. And I can tell you one thing, I don’t drink water most nights!”

Everywhere he goes, her well-being is asked about and he’s thinking about having an open day at the end of this Flat season due to the demand to see her. There is some important business to be taken care of before then, though.

Mullins reckons she has been “four to six lengths behind” her norm in three runs since winning a Group Three at Ascot in the spring, but he has high hopes of scaling those lofty heights again today.

She has been settling into her French surroundings since arriving in Paris on Wednesday following an 18-hour ferry from Dublin, and Mullins hopes a return to the scene of her greatest triumph will bring out the best in her again.

She’s in “a lot better form” since disappointing in the Irish St Leger, having “freshened up well” in the mean time, although Aidan O’Brien’s Kyprios – “the new King Kong of the stayers” – will be “hard to topple”.

“Even if we could chase him home we’d be very proud of her, but we’ll try and beat him,” Mullins says before revealing she will stay in training next year, provided she retains her ability and remains competitive.

That’s for another day, though, as Joey Sheridan hopes to steer her to another famous success.

Lightning has already struck once for Princess Zoe in Paris, will racing romanticism be alive again in the city of love?

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