Saturday August 20 2022
The defection of Stradivarius may have temporarily made York seem something like “Hamlet without the Prince” but Highfield Princess’s brilliant win in the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes was a performance to light up any stage.
The overnight foot injury that robbed us of a Stradivarius swansong, and the firmer ground that led to the late withdrawal of Trueshan in the Lonsdale Cup, should not mute the praise given to the brilliance of Lady Blyth’s home-bred Quickthorn, or the enterprise of his jockey Tom Marquand, who stole a lead around the first bend and kept it to 14 lengths at the line. It could have been the highlight yet it was but the prelude for the Princess.
Highland Princess is more than just the apple of owner-breeder John Fairley and his family’s eyes and the best horse John Quinn has trained at Fairley’s Highfield Stables 20 miles from York, she is the most improved filly in the history of recorded horse racing and, just to put the candle on it, she is an absolute poppet.
Top sprinters, like their human equivalents, tend to have a swagger, sometimes even a touch of massive menace about them. Not Highfield Princess. She has a gentle inquisitive face, no crested neck or rippling shoulder, just a neat, healthy frame and the temperament of a quiet child’s pony that you can walk out of the box and pull its ears before wandering off to join the others.
But she is a racer. Unable to run as a two-year-old, it took her five tries before she finally collected in a little handicap at Ayr two years ago next month. Since then she has run 25 times, won ten more races and made the unprecedented climb in the ratings from a modest 58 to yesterday’s soon-to-be-upgraded 112. What’s more, she has got quicker as she has got older. Her first eight victories were all over seven furlongs, but this season she has won the group two Duke of York Stakes at six furlongs, the group one Prix Maurice de Gheest over 6½, and yesterday’s top-flight Nunthorpe Stakes at the minimum five.
This Nunthorpe was run at a truly scorching pace as Hollie Doyle had the two-year-old The Platinum Queen hitting 44mph and clocking 10.36sec and 10.49sec for the second and third furlongs, but even that could not put Highfield Princess in trouble. Jason Hart, her jockey, wisely stayed his hand until taking full control a furlong out and having a decisive 2½ lengths over The Platinum Queen at the line with Emaraaty Ana a respectful third. The princess deserved the crown.
Hart has come a long way from his Scottish pony racing days at Hawick, just as Quinn has from his hardworking time as a jump jockey in the 1980s, but yesterday was a coronation of their own.
Most of all it was a triumph for Fairley, who lives at Highfield Stables, bought the mare Pure Illusion with Highfield Princess inside her, and who as a Yorkshireman, former head of Yorkshire Television and award-winning author and producer has seen many finest hours. But none as sweet as yesterday.