Champion Hurdle outsider Quick Grabim is to head straight for the Cheltenham Festival – but just badly needs a break in the weather to show his true form on drier ground.
Trainer Fergal O’Brien admits he is still “tempted” by a possible bid for championship glory in such an open year.
He acknowledges, however, that the handicap route of the Randox Health County Hurdle may be a more obvious plan for a Grade One winner currently rated 146.
Quick Grabim was dropped to that mark after finishing sixth to Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante at Kempton on Boxing Day, on his only start to date since switching from Willie Mullins’ Irish powerhouse yard.
O’Brien attributes that slightly disappointing effort entirely to the soft ground – and he has since had to deal with the daily frustration through this incessantly wet winter of being unable to run the eight-year-old on an unsuitable speed-sapping surface.
“It’s very frustrating – but there’s no point running him on bad ground again,” said the Cotswolds trainer.
“(Jockey) Paddy (Brennan) said he hated it at Kempton, and that was just soft round there. Paddy is adamant he wants nice, good ground.”
O’Brien has tried to find a prep race over the length and breadth of the country – including Wincanton and Kelso – but abandonments for waterlogging have eliminated any left-field thoughts of taking another chance with conditions.
And he has ruled out going for the rescheduled Kingwell Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.
“He won’t go back to Kempton for the Kingwell. The ground has gone soft,” O’Brien added.
“I’d rather go straight to Cheltenham with him. He’s a nice horse fresh, a proper two-miler, and we’ve got the Champion and the County (to choose from) – so we’ll see which is best for us closer to the time.
“It wasn’t a terrible run at Kempton. I was a little bit disappointed, but it wasn’t a terrible run – in that he was sixth, he was very keen, we hadn’t had him that long, and he came over (to us) with a niggle and hadn’t run for a long time.
“He got tired, in heavy ground. So there were a lot of things that went against him.”
Quick Grabim, who races in the famous Gold Cup-winning colours of the Worcester family, arrived in O’Brien’s care still on the way back from a minor injury.
But he has been in rude health, following his stable debut at Kempton, and O’Brien senses he is at least close to Champion Hurdle class.
“He’s been training well since then – he hasn’t really missed a day,” he said.
“You would be tempted – but it’s all very well saying it’s not a great Champion Hurdle until you go and try to win one!
“There’s no easy races at Cheltenham. We’ll definitely have a look at it, but probably the handicap is the route he should go down.
“I’ll speak to Mrs Worcester, and see what she wants to do.
“If you think you’re going to run well in a Champion Hurdle, then we should be winning the County off 146 shouldn’t we?”
Quick Grabim is well-named, in that few stablemates can get anywhere near him.
“He’s as quick as we’ve got anyway, that’s for sure,” said his trainer.
“But we’ve got a lot of three-mile chasers, so he probably looks a little bit quicker than he is, or than he would if he was in Mr Mullins’ yard still!
“He’s a lovely horse to have. I think he’ll get further (in time) and there’s a lot of positives about him.
“He’s eight now, but definitely hasn’t got many miles on the clock.
“It’s just been the ground (that’s stopped us running him). We’ve had plenty of entries, but just haven’t been able to run him.”
O’Brien hopes that is all about to change over the coming months – including a possible summer trip back to Ireland.
“I think he’ll have a busy spring somewhere,” he said.
“(Then) we could even look to go back to Galway – he was meant to run there last year, but he ran in France and picked up a niggle.
“We could go back there for the Galway Hurdle.
“He’s a talented horse, and he loves being in training – and he’s very easy, very straightforward.”