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Highfield Princess wins the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes

John Quinn described winning the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes as better than winning the lottery, after his fairytale mare Highfield Princess won a second Group One prize inside 12 days.

There has surely been no horse in modern times to have improved from an opening handicap mark of 57 to being the leading sprinter in the land. But that journey is now complete for Quinn’s speedster.

Perhaps all the more remarkable is that the Prix Maurice de Gheest she won less than two weeks ago is run over six and a half furlongs at Deauville – almost a quarter of a mile more than the five-furlong Nunthorpe.

That mattered not a jot, though, as despite the best efforts of flying juvenile The Platinum Queen to burn them all off under Hollie Doyle in receipt of 24lb from the winner, she could not shake off 5-1 chance Highfield Princess.

When Jason Hart pressed the button the response was immediate and the five-year-old bounded clear to provide the north with a new sprinting heroine, hot on the heels of Mecca’s Angel (twice), Alpha Delphini and Winter Power as winners of this race since 2015 on home soil.

“Wow. What a mare,” said Quinn, an Irishman who has been based in Malton, North Yorkshire, since the 1980s when he came over to ride for Jimmy Fitzgerald.

“She won over seven furlongs at Royal Ascot last year, the Duke of York over six here in May, the Maurice de Gheest over six and a half and now 12 days later she’s won the Nunthorpe.

“Straight after France I didn’t know if we would be here, but she’s taken it all so well. She has some constitution.

“Apart from my family she means everything to me, I’m not being smart. You dream of having a horse like this.

“Every trainer does the same thing when you are deciding whether to run, you are looking all the time for a reason not to run and she didn’t give me one.

“I’ve run her back a few times quickly and she’s nearly always run up to her best and since France she’s been bright as a button.”

For a horse with such strong form over seven furlongs having won the Buckingham Palace at Ascot last June, conventional wisdom might have seen her stretch out to a mile, but as can often be the case, the older she became the quicker she got – with the next plan to do it on the world stage in November.

“When we were qualifying her for all-weather finals day we ran her over five and Tone The Barone beat her, but he was match fit and only beat her half a length so that gave us hope,” said Quinn.

“This means everything. It’s better than winning the lottery. To win here at York, with all my family here, it’s fantastic.”

Highfield Princess is owned by John Fairley, who used to head Channel 4 Racing – and just happens to be Quinn’s landlord.

“When she was starting out I said to John that she won’t win a maiden so we’ll get her categorised and go from there. When they gave her 57 I thought ‘oh heck, we can’t get her in a 0-55!’,” said Quinn.

“Her progress year in and year out and been astounding and she’s been a joy to train.

“The end game has always been the Breeders’ Cup as she’s got loads of tactical speed and five and a half furlongs around two bends will be right up her alley. She’ll go back to France before than, probably the Abbaye rather than the Foret.”

Fairley was finding it all hard to take in and said: “Her story is one of the most epic stories in the history of thoroughbred racing. To do what she has done in two years is incredible, and to win a Nunthorpe by two and a half lengths, hardly anyone does that.

“To see a horse do what she has done, I bought the dam for £18,000 when she was in foal. I’d always bought the odd horse in France and I like French-breds – especially as you get the premiums!

“You have to wait until they are 18 months old to bring them home, but since then I’ve been able to look at her every day.

“She bit me this morning, that’s how I knew she was feeling good, but I didn’t think she’d win like that.

“We talked about four or five races after France, but the main aim has always been the Breeders’ Cup.”

On board throughout most of her career has been Hart, who celebrated his first Group One less than two weeks ago. What is it they say about London buses?

“She gave me my first Group One winner a couple of weeks ago and it probably means more today to do it on home soil. She deserved it,” he said.

“I was really confident, the two-year-old was giving us a nice tow and I thought I’d be able to pick her up whenever I wanted really. I thought if I could just hold her together for the middle part of the race she’d finish her race off.

“She’s definitely getting quicker.”

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