Ronald Pump bidding for elusive Grade One success

Victory for sole raider in Ascot’s Long Walk would cap a record top-level haul for Irish-trained horses in Britain in 2021

Ronald Pump, the bargain-buy horse that once changed hands for just €1,000, will try to secure an elusive first Grade One success on Saturday.

Ascot's Howden Long Walk Hurdle is the final top-flight prize of the year prior to Christmas so the sole Irish raider lining up would be an apt winner.

A calendar year of unprecedented success for Irish-trained horses has seen almost half of Britain’s 40 Grade One races picked up by runners from this country.

Most notable was how all but two of the 14 top-class contests up for grabs at the Cheltenham Festival in March went to Ireland amongst a record haul of 23 winners in all.

The strength of the domestic action here could prompt more cross-channel raids this season too along the lines of A Plus Tard's Betfair Chase rout at Haydock last month.

That was a first Irish win in that race and Ronald Pump has a shot at a number of 'firsts' in Saturday's three-mile marathon. No horse based in Ireland has ever won the Long Walk while Ronald Pump's trainer, Meath-based Matthew Smith, is also pursuing a maiden success at the top level.

Smith however is keeping fingers firmly crossed for his stable star who has been a Grade One runner-up four times in his career.

Twice he has had the thankless task of chasing home Honeysuckle in the Hatton's Grace while also coming within a whisker of landing last year's Stayers at Cheltenham.

His task has been made easier by the unfortunate pelvic injury suffered by the ante-post favourite Buzz on Friday although the former dual-winner Paisley Park is among seven other opponents.

“We’d love to win a Grade One with him somewhere. He has been really consistent throughout his career and he seems to have come out of Fairyhouse really well,” Smith reported on Friday.

Keith Donoghue, who has won at the top level in the past on board The Storyteller and Hardline, takes the mount on Ronald Pump.

Donoghue's old ally Gordon Elliott is represented at Ascot by both Ardhill, who sports first-time blinkers in the opening hurdle, and Pencilfulloflead in a competitive-looking conditions chase.

Pencilfulloflead looked to have the chasing world at his feet this time last year after beating Latest Exhibition in a Grade Two novice.

He was subsequently beaten by Colreevy at Limerick over Christmas and failed to fire subsequently at Naas. Not having run in almost a year is a disadvantage but he is top on official ratings against six opponents that include another Irish hope in Ex Patriot.

There is also Irish interest in the valuable Betfair Trophy as last season's Ladbroke Hurdle winner Drop The Anchor goes for Pat Fahy.

Drop The Anchor has only Goshen above him in the weights but Simon Torrens takes off a valuable 3lb claim and the horse goes to Ascot on the back of a promising recent run on the flat at Navan.

Owner JP McManus also has the fancied No Ordinary Joe in the bottom half of the handicap.

Five rides

The final domestic fixtures before Christmas take place at Navan and Thurles this weekend.

On the back of landing The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year award on Friday, Rachael Blackmore will be busy with five rides at Saturday's meeting in Navan.

They include Journey With Me who impressed in a bumper at Gowran last March – the same race won by his stable companion Bob Olinger a year previously – and holds Grade One entries over flights.

A light weight and decent ground appears to be Futurum Regum’s optimum conditions as he showed when winning easily at Navan on his last start over jumps.

He gets those in the featured €40,000 Tara Handicap Hurdle and may be up to defying his penalty.

There will be plenty interest in the latest start of All Class who returns to hurdling at Navan.

The mare landed a huge gamble on the flat at Navan in March – from 66/1 to 9/2 – and subsequently won twice more for David Dunne.

Now in the care of Ronan McNally, All Class justified more market support in a chase at Punchestown last month.

One of two horses that got a break on the rest of the field, All Class eventually won easily and got a huge ratings hike as a result which leaves her hurdles mark of 95 looking attractive.

The star attraction on Saturday however will be American Mike in the concluding Listed bumper.

This has lived up to its 'Future Champions' race title with the likes of Don Cossack, Samcro, Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard winning in the last decade.

All were for Gordon Elliott who saddled American Mike – a £195,000 purchase after scoring in a point to point – to win easily at Down Royal in October.

Already a 7-2 favourite to emulate Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard by winning the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, American Mike should prove too tough for half a dozen opponents.