Talking Horses: Ronald Pump ready to step on the gas in Long Walk Hurdle
Nicky Henderson’s progressive staying hurdler Buzz, the early favourite for the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, is likely to be on the sidelines for the rest of the season at least after suffering a suspected fracture to his pelvis.
“He was just doing his last spin [for Ascot] and about 100 yards from the end, bang,” Henderson said. “The most important thing is that he stays as still as possible and as long as he doesn’t haemorrhage, which is the dangerous part, it’s just a matter of standing still for quite a long time.”
In Buzz’s absence, eight runners are due to go to post, including Henderson’s Champ, a Grade One novice chase winner at Cheltenham in March 2020, who reverts to hurdles after jumping poorly before being pulled up in last season’s Gold Cup.
Champ was also a Grade One winner over timber as a novice but this is a tough assignment for his first start in nine months and Ronald Pump (2.25) makes more appeal at around 7-2.
Matthew Smith’s eight-year-old has peppered the target in Grade Ones in recent seasons and ran well to finish eight lengths behind Honeysuckle, the unbeaten reigning Champion Hurdler, when he returned to action at Fairyhouse last month. This step back up to three miles can finally see him break through at the highest level.
Ascot 1.50 Guy was sent off favourite at this track last time out and would have gone close but for a bad mistake at the second-last. Still lightly-raced over fences, he can atone for that off a 3lb higher mark.
Haydock Park 2.05 It is a slight concern that Stellar Magic was pulled up when going for a quick hat-trick back in February but his earlier winning form at Taunton suggests he is starting out in handicaps on a workable mark.
Haydock Park 2.40 Remastered would have taken some stopping in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last month had he not suffered a crashing fall at the fourth-last. He had travelled like the best-handicapped horse in the race to that point and can run off the same mark here.
Ascot 3.00 An interest in Jerrysback will not be to everyone’s taste given his recent form figures of PP-F and habit of making mistakes at a vital stage. That is built into his price, however, and he has shown glimpses of sufficient talent to be competitive off today’s mark if or when everything falls into place.
Ascot 3.35 A suitably competitive field for one of the most valuable two-mile handicap hurdles of the season. West Cork and No Ordinary Joe both ran well on quicker ground at Cheltenham last time but are priced up accordingly so Llandinabo Lad catches the eye among the outsiders at around 20-1. He was second behind the top-class My Drogo over this track and trip in a Grade Two novice 12 months ago, and made a solid return to action following a wind op at Bangor last month.
Jonbon all the rage for Festival after Ascot romp
JP McManus’s £570,000 gamble on Jonbon after his win in an Irish point-to-point last November looks increasingly like a copper-bottomed investment after five-year-old extended his unbeaten record under Rules to three races in the Kennel Gate Novice Hurdle at Ascot.
Jonbon also had an exceptional pedigree to recommend him after his success at Dromahane in County Cork last year, as Douvan, his full brother, won 13 races in a row after joining Willie Mullins in 2014, including two Grade One events at the Cheltenham Festival.
But his purchase price was still a new record for an ex point-to-pointer at auction, and Nicky Henderson admitted that “when a horse costs that much, there’s always a bit of pressure” after taking charge of Jonbon him last year. That left the trainer breathing a sigh of relief after the gelding was forced to make most of the running on the way to an easy two-and-three-quarter length defeat of Colonel Mustard.
“He is getting the hang of it,” Henderson said. “They were playing games at the start [with no one willing to cut out the running and] I would prefer to ride him the other way, but he can do anything you want.
“To be fair, life has been pretty simple and very straightforward since his first run [over hurdles] at Newbury [last month]. He is getting more relaxed in life. He was good at the start. He was a cool dude all the way around. He had them off the bridle a long way out off no pace, as Aidan said his cruising speed is so high.”
Just five runners went to post but all four of Jonbon’s opponents had made strong starts to their hurdling careers. As a result, bookmakers did not hesitate to make Jonbon the new clear favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, a race Henderson has won with both Altior and Shishkin since 2016.
Henderson also confirmed that Shishkin, potentially the brightest new star in British jumping, is still a possible runner in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on 27 December.