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'He seems as good as ever' - Smith plotting Stayers' route with Ronald Pump

Ronald Pump: live contender for leading staying prizes over hurdles this season
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Matthew Smith believes Stayers' Hurdle candidate Ronald Pump is "as good as ever" as he builds up to a return next month following a "stop-start" campaign last season.

No horse has ever finished closer to Honeysuckle than the talented eight-year-old, who was beaten just half a length in last year's Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

A setback meant the €1,000 bargain buy (as a three-year-old) wasn't seen again until a terrific third to Klassical Dream in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown festival.

Ronald Pump (right): runner-up in the 2020 Stayers' Hurdle

Smith believes Ronald Pump's below-par effort in the French Champion Hurdle could be attributed to the interrupted campaign.

"We had an issue with a splint last season and that left things a bit stop-start," said the Meath trainer, who became one of the first Irish handlers to utilise the new 18-hour ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg when sending Ronald Pump to Auteuil in May.

"I think he was just a bit flat on his last run of the season in France. Having been off for a period during the season, he then had a hard race when third at Punchestown.

"It can be hard to back up after that anyway but especially after being off for a while. We'll just put a line through that run at Auteuil."

Rated 156 on home soil, the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil fifth is priced between 18-1 and 25-1 for the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham – a race in which he finished second behind Lisnagar Oscar in 2020 after not having the clearest of runs.

Ronald Pump: fell for the first time in his career in last year's Lismullen Hurdle at Navan

Smith is plotting a return to the Cotswolds in March to go one better, although no firm decision has been made on where his first start of the campaign will come.

The Laois Limerick Syndicate-owned performer looked sure to be placed at least before falling at the final flight on his comeback last season in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle.

"He's back working away," said Smith. "It's possible that the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan [on November 7] might come a bit too soon for him, but if he doesn't go there we can hopefully look towards the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse where he was second last year."

He added: "Touch wood, we'll have a good run with him this time around. I'd imagine we'll be heading down the Stayers' Hurdle route again. At home he seems as good as ever at the minute so fingers crossed he'll keep progressing."

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It's possible that the Lismullen Hurdle might come a bit too soon for him, but if he doesn't go there we can hopefully look towards the Hatton's Grace
E.W. Terms