Fairwell to Yorkshire’s Princess: Sprint Star Highfield Princess Passes Away

Barely had the 2024 flat season begun when the devastating news broke that one of the most loved stars of the past two years had departed for the pastures in the sky. Having suffered what was initially thought to be a career-ending injury in her paddock, John Quinn’s Group 1 winning sensation, Highfield Princess, tragically lost her battle for life at seven years of age.

Racing at the highest level is so often dominated by the battalions of Ballydoyle and Godolphin, but not always, as evidenced by this late-developing speedball, who captured the public’s imagination and refused to let go. Sadly, Highfield Princess’s time in the spotlight proved all too brief, but this kind-natured mare with the heart of a lion certainly shone brightly. Here, we look back at the career of a sprinter who emerged from the heart of North Yorkshire to take on the best that Europe had to offer and beat them all.

A Promising Pedigree

Sired by 2000 Guineas champ Night Of Thunder, out of the winning dam Pure Illusion, and a half-sister to the Group-class sprinter Cardsharp, there was plenty to like about Highfield Princess on paper. Nevertheless, former Channel 4 Racing supremo John Fairley snapped up Pure Illusion whilst carrying Highfield Princess for the relatively paltry sum of 18,000 Guineas – an absolute steal for a mare who went on to amass over £1.8million in prize money!

Humble Beginnings to a Royal Success

Not that there were many signs of what lay ahead when Highfield Princess first took to the track on 18 June 2020. Finishing 8th of 13 in that Class 5 Maiden at Redcar, she didn’t fare much better in subsequent outings at Thirsk and then back at Redcar. Having been beaten a combined 28 lengths in three outings, a lowly opening mark of 57 didn’t appear particularly generous.

However, by September, the penny was beginning to drop. Success in a Class 6 event at Ayr sparked a sequence of four wins in six outings and a rapid ascent to a mark of 80. Perhaps Fairley and Quinn had a talented handicapper on their hands after all.

Looking in need of the run on her seasonal return in May 2021, Highfield Princess quickly took up where she had left off – scorching clear in a 7f Class 4 at Ascot before leading the best of the British handicappers a merry dance in the Buckingham Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Now up to a mark of 100, it was time for the princess to dip her toe into deeper waters.

Backing up that Royal Ascot win with a first Listed success at Chelmsford, the improving star initially found the move into Group company to be a step too far – finishing in the first six in five subsequent outings without managing to get her head in front. Perhaps, following such an impressive ascent, she had reached her ceiling. Then again, maybe not.

The Group 1 Blitz of 2022

Up to this point, Highfield Princess had done all of her winning over 7f, but a drop down to sprinting trips would send her form into the stratosphere. Showing promise in her first crack at 5f on the all-weather at Wolverhampton, she then announced herself as a sprinter to be reckoned with when claiming Group 2 glory in the 1895 Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes at York. Even better would follow.

Never one to shirk a challenge, Quinn shipped his mare over to Deauville to take her chance in the 2022 edition of the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest. Going in the hands of regular partner Jason Hart, Highfield Princess seized the opportunity with both hands, travelling sweetly throughout before putting the race to bed with an impressive burst of acceleration.

Next up, a return to the minimum trip in the prestigious Nunthorpe Stakes, where Group 1 stars The Platinum Queen, Emaraaty Ana, Khaddem, and Winter Power lay in wait. A tough contest on paper, but Highfield Princess made it look easy.

Still not done, the new star of the sprinting division headed to the Curragh for the Irish leg of her European tour. The cream of the Irish sprinters joined many of the runners conquered in the Nunthorpe, but none could get near her in the Flying Five Stakes.

Heading into August of 2022, the Group 1 career tally of the 2013 Champion Apprentice Jason Hart stood at zero. Just 34 days later, he had three in the bag courtesy of one of the most improved equine stars of the 21st Century.

Bowing Out On a High, Her Final Season

Having become the first horse in history to win the Prix Maurice de Gheest and Nunthorpe Stakes in the same season, hopes were understandably high heading into the 2023 campaign. Now six years old and sitting on a rating of 119 – fully 62lbs higher than for that debut outing at Redcar – the wondermare couldn’t quite live up to those impossibly high standards, but she wasn’t too far off it.

Second in the King’s Stand Stakes and third in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee just four days later, she then proved a class above her Group 2 rivals in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood, before just failing to defend her Nunthorpe crown when second to shock winner Live In The Dream. It was a similar story in the 2023 Flying Five Stakes, but a return to France worked the oracle, as she came home in front in the prestigious Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc weekend.

Cheaply purchased and expertly handled by John Quinn as she developed, Highfield Princess blossomed far beyond the dreams of all involved and, by all accounts, possessed a loving nature to match her sublime talent. Gone, but unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.