Ronald Pump ridden by Keith Donoghue goes on to win the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle Series Final during day three of the Fairyhouse Easter Festival at Firehouse Racecourse, RatoathMatthew 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.”