Smith eyes Leopardstown with Ronald Pump

Matthew Smith was delighted to see Ronald Pump push Honeysuckle so close in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Runner-up to Lisnagar Oscar in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, that was the seven-year-old’s outstanding piece of form before Sunday, and Smith believes he has now well and truly proven himself a Grade One performer.

Leopardstown’s three-mile Christmas Hurdle on December 28 is therefore next on his agenda.

“He ran a serious race,” said Smith.

“In another two strides, the ground he was making up, he’d have got her all right – but that’s the way it goes.

“There’s no doubt about it, he’s a Grade One horse.

“They went no gallop and then sprinted turning in, and he was just caught a little flat-footed but then he got going.

“He didn’t jump the last as cleanly as you would have liked, which also stopped him making ground, but I was delighted with the run.

Honeysuckle just held on from Ronald Pump in the Hatton's Grace
Honeysuckle just held on from Ronald Pump in the Hatton’s Grace (PA Wire)

“That’s given us confidence going into Christmas now, because we know he’s back to his best, and he’ll be better off over three miles – the further the better.

“The Stayers’ is his race at Cheltenham, but if he’s sound and everything he’ll have options at Aintree. To show the turn of foot he did on Sunday, that long straight at Aintree over two and a half might suit.

“We were delighted with how well he ran – but having come so close, we were a bit gutted too.”

Honeysuckle digs deep to retain Hatton’s Grace crown

Honeysuckle won the BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse for the second successive year – but she was clinging on in the final strides.

Henry de Bromhead’s hugely talented mare was stretching her unbeaten record under Rules to nine – which includes five Grade Ones – yet she was made to pull out all the stops by Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Ronald Pump.

Rachael Blackmore always had Honeysuckle in the perfect position, just behind the leader Cracking Smart.

The 4-11 favourite was in front early in the straight, with Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge looking her main challenger.

Honeysuckle got in a little close to the second last, allowing Beacon Edge to close, but the mare hit top gear and flew the last, seemingly putting the race to bed.

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However, Ronald Pump, racing over a trip arguably short of his best, began to make ground rapidly under Keith Donoghue and was closing with every stride.

The line came just too soon for him, though, and Honeysuckle held on by half a length – with Beacon Edge back in third and Bacardys fourth.

De Bromhead said: “The winning run continues – she’s just brilliant, tough as.

“Rachael said they really sprinted up the straight, and she had a little blow at the third last, so she’ll come on plenty for it – I’m delighted with the run.

“She just has the real will to win and she toughed it out well. She didn’t win as her odds suggested, but she toughed it out well.

“It was her first run since March – and starting back in a Grade One, you want to have them as fit as you can get them but (also) bearing in mind there’s a long season ahead of you.

“Last year we went for a conditions hurdle before this, so I’m delighted she’s won, and hopefully she’ll step forward for it.

“I think we’re planning on the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February – same as last year – and then we’ll see, but I’m delighted to win today.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead (middle) is hoping Honeysuckle returns to Cheltenham later this season
Trainer Henry de Bromhead (middle) is hoping Honeysuckle returns to Cheltenham later this season (PA)

“It’s possible she showed more speed today, they went slow enough, and Rachael said she really sprinted over the last two.

“I didn’t actually see Epatante yesterday, so that wouldn’t put me off the Champion Hurdle, but we’ll just focus on our mare and see how it all unfolds. At the moment, we’re aiming for the Irish Champion Hurdle and then reassess.”

Blackmore said: “She was brilliant, and it’s great to get her back to do that today. She was coming into this without a prep run this season, and it’s a great result for everyone in the yard.

“She was jumping her hurdles a bit better today and is maturing.

“She might have been just feeling it a bit on her first run after the last, but she gets the job done every day. She’s very special, and I’m lucky to be getting the leg up on her.”