Smart staying hurdler Karabak, fourth to Big Buck’s in last year’sWorld Hurdle and a brave winner of the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham earlier this season, may miss another date with the dual champion stayer and his main market rival Grand Crus at Prestbury Park in three weeks time, writes Elliot Slater.

Alan King has conceded that he believes it is unlikely that the JP McManus-owned gelding would prove good enough to beat both the market leaders for the three-mile staying championship and doesn’t think it would make a good bet for UK and Irish horse racing tips. He reckons that if he takes his chance in the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on February 27, the Cheltenham race would prove come too soon for the eight-year-old anyway. The matter will be discussed with McManus and his racing manager Frank Berry, and an announcement will be made after a final decision has been taken.

Even those watching horse racing Ireland should note that a runner-up at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival when second to Mikhael d’Haguenet in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Karabak progressed last term to finish second to Zaynar in the Ascot Hurdle before occupying the same position behind Big Buck’s in the Long Walk Hurdle, after which he finished fourth to the champion stayer at the Cheltenham Festival.

After winning the Relkeel Hurdle on his penultimate start this season hopes were raised that Karabak might be getting closer to the Big Buck’s benchmark, but his subsequent fourth place last time out behind Oscar Whisky in the Cheltenham & Three Counties Hurdle exposed chinks in the armour of the Kahyasi gelding, leaving connections with plenty of thinking to do before deciding to go back into battle against Big Bucks & co.

The option of waiting until Aintree or Punchestown remains open for Karabak, a talented horse, but one who falls just a few pounds short of the very top class.