Matthew Smith sets sights on breakthrough Grade 1 with Ronald Pump at Ascot
Matthew Smith has his eyes fixed on a breakthrough Grade 1 victory with Ronald Pump in Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
His stable star found only Honeysuckle too good for a second season running in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse and Smith believes that if Ronald Pump can reproduce that effort, he will go close to landing a maiden top-level triumph.
Ronald Pump has finished second four times at the highest level, including when chasing home Lisnagar Oscar in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, and the trainer is hoping for a change of luck at Ascot.
He said: “It would be disappointing if we couldn't pick up a Grade 1 with him somewhere along the line and hopefully we can get the job done at Ascot on Saturday.
"He's been second in four Grade 1s now, so we'd love to win one with him. I think the horse deserves it as he’s been really consistent throughout his career.”
Ronald Pump didn't enjoy the clearest run last season. He threw a splint midway through the season and, less than a week before finishing third behind Klassical Dream in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown, he picked up a stone bruise.
Smith reports the one-time €1,000 purchase to be much healthier this term and believes that his Hatton's Grace second bodes well for Saturday.
He said: “They went a serious gallop in the Hatton's Grace and our lad wasn't stopping at the line. Honeysuckle is just an exceptional mare and there's no disgrace in finishing second to her.
"He's always been a straightforward horse to train but he just didn't get a clear run last season. He got a splint that flared up, then got a stone bruise a week before he finished third in the Grade 1 at Punchestown.
“Last season was a bit of a disaster but, touch wood, things have been much smoother sailing with him this term and he seems to have come out of Fairyhouse really well.
"If he can reproduce that Fairyhouse effort on Saturday he'd have to have a right chance. I don't see why he can't reproduce it.”
Ronald Pump will be partnered by Keith Donoghue on Saturday with Smith revealing that the rider reported the application of first-time blinkers worked wonders at Fairyhouse.
He said: "We used to run him in a hood but things have gone full circle. In fairness to Keith, he said the horse just never travelled for him at Punchestown last season and told us to stick them on him. They seemed to have sharpened him up at Fairyhouse and we'll leave them on him for Saturday."
Ronald Pump is a general 7-1 behind favourite Buzz at 7-4 and Thyme Hill, who is a top-priced 11-4. At a bigger price is Paisley Park, who will have a new jockey for the first time in nearly four years as Tom Bellamy steps in for the suspended Aidan Coleman.
Bellamy said: “It’s a huge ride for me. The owners have put a lot of faith in me and hopefully he can get back on track. When the owners found out about the Aidan situation they had to make a decision what the next step was and I’ve had a few sits on Paisley Park at home in recent days.
“I think we’re going to leave the cheekpieces off him this weekend as he was doing a bit much with them on last time and go back to how they used to do it with him. He needs to find something from somewhere on his last two runs but he’s two from two in the Long Walk Hurdle and you never know.”
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