YOU have to feel for connections of Buzz, for the Thurloe team and the Henderson team.
Hopefully the Motivator gelding will make a speedy and a full recovery from his injury and go on to realise his true potential.
Ronald Pump is obviously a shorter price now for today’s Howden Long Walk Hurdle in Buzz’s absence than he was when declarations were in on Thursday morning, but he is probably still over-priced at 7/2.
Matthew Smith’s horse generally doesn’t tend to get the recognition that he is due, possibly because he is a relatively late maturing horse.
Well beaten in handicap hurdles in the autumn of 2018 off marks in the low 100s, his form in the last couple of seasons is top class. Second in the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle, third in the 2021 Punchestown Stayers’ Hurdle. Second to Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle last year, second to Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle this year.
Last year, he was beaten by a fast-diminishing half length by the great mare. This year, he was the only horse who was able to go with Honeysuckle as she closed in on, and passed, the leader Stormy Ireland.
That was Ronald Pump’s first run since he was well-beaten in the French Champion Hurdle in May, and he was weak in the market beforehand. Also, that two-and-a-half-mile trip is probably short of his optimum. The step up to three miles today should see him step forward on that.
He is eight years old now, rising nine, and that is not a positive in the context of the Stayers’ Hurdle. Only three horses aged older than eight have won the Stayers’ Hurdle since Galmoy: Inglis Drever, Big Buck’s and Solwhit. The Stayers’ Hurdle is not an easy gig for older horses.
By contrast, five of the last 10 Long Walk Hurdle winners were eight rising nine, and one of them was nine rising 10. The history of today’s race tells us that Ronald Pump’s age is not a negative.
There are question marks around some of Ronald Pump’s opponents today. Thyme Hill is a worthy favourite, but he is short for a horse who was well-beaten on his latest run in France.
Champ is having his first run since he was pulled up in the Gold Cup, and he is back over hurdles for the first time since April 2019. Thomas Darby and Paisley Park are both talented staying hurdlers, but neither is straightforward. Everything into the mix, and 7/2 is more than fair about Ronald Pump.
Later on the day, Caribean Boy could be the answer to the Howden Silver Cup. Nicky Henderson’s horse was dropped another 3lb by the handicapper for his latest run in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his seasonal return.
He is down now to a mark of 145, 9lb lower than his peak, and he could be a well-handicapped horse now on that mark, stepping up to three miles for the first time.
We know that he can be good over two and a half miles, he won a novices’ handicap chase on his final run of the 2019/20 season at Haydock over that trip, and he beat Fiddlerontheroof and Getaway Trump over that trip at Newbury on his debut last season. It is disappointing that he hasn’t won since, but there has been mitigation.
In the Paddy Power Plate, for example, at the Cheltenham Festival last March, he missed the break from a standing start, and he had to play catch-up from the rear in a race that was run at a moderate pace and in which the prominent racers were dominant. He did well to get as close as he did.
He shaped in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his return as if he would benefit from a step up in trip. He travelled well through his race, but he got outpaced at the top of the hill before keeping on up the home straight.
It is not ideal that he finished third of three on his only run to date at Ascot, but the winner of that race was Dashel Drasher, who won his next two, both over the same course and distance, including the Grade 1 Ascot Chase. He is now rated 159, and Caribean Boy got to within seven lengths of him that day.
Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horse’s mark of 145 today gives him a real chance and, still only seven, it is more than possible that he will improve for the step up to three miles today. And the addition of cheekpieces could elicit further progression.
You have to respect the chances of Belami Des Pictons and Annsam. Belami Des Pictons shaped really encouragingly at Bangor on his seasonal debut, his first run in almost two years, when he finished fourth in the race that this month’s Becher Chase winner Snow Leopardess won.
Venetia Williams’ horse is 10 now, but he is a lightly-raced 10-year-old, and he is down to a mark of 135, 13lb lower than his peak.
Annsam is a player too. Evan Williams’ horse has probably been primed for today. His two runs this season so far have been over hurdles, and it is not a coincidence that Coole Cody – owned, like Annsam, by Wayne Clifford and trained by Evan Williams – had his first run of the season over hurdles before going close in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and then winning the December Gold Cup.
But it looks like that is all factored into the market now and, at the prices, Caribean Boy is the bet.
Ronald Pump, 2.25 Ascot, 7/2
(generally), 1 point win
Caribean Boy, 3.00 Ascot, 13/2
(generally), 1 point win