THE Queen of County Durham is back and raring to go.

Star mare Mabs Cross has returned to Michael Dods’ yard at Denton, near Darlington, after her winter holiday with her owners, the Armstrong family, at Highfield Farm, in Lancashire.

And the exciting news is that she’s come back looking even stronger than last year.

Dods said: “It's early days, of course, and she’s just doing gentle work at the moment but she certainly looks like she's wintered well. It's great to have her back in the yard and we're looking forward to a season that promises so much.”

Mabs Cross has returned to the same box as last season and this year it has the Racehorse Owners Association "Outstanding Sprinter of 2018" plaque on the wall following last season’s heroics, which included a triumphant finale in the Prix de l’Abbaye in France.

Dods added: “We're not sure yet where Mabs will start but the Group Three Palace House at Newmarket, which she won last year, is an option

“Then the targets will be The Temple Stakes at Haydock, the King's Stand at Royal Ascot, the Nunthorpe at York and finishing off her career with a tilt at repeating last year's unforgettable success in France. She's such a prospect as a brood mare that this is almost certainly her last season.

“Any of those big four Group Ones would be great to win but it would be especially nice to win the Nunthorpe after what happened last year when she missed out by a whisker to Alpha Delphini. There are also alternative races in Ireland and France if other options are needed.

“When you look back at her career, she's improved with every race. We'd be content to have the same horse as last year, but we have to be hopeful that she'll be even better as a five-year-old.

“We're looking set fair for a good season. The winter's been kind compared to last year and we've got a really nice mix of two-year-olds, with some sharp ones and some that will mature later. Last year's two-year-olds include some that we always thought would go on to make really nice three-year-olds and they are also looking really promising at this stage.”