A Group I date with Queensland could be back on the cards for stallion prospect Graff as the Kris Lees-trained sprinter edges closer to a racing return in the next fortnight.
Graff will be an acceptor in the Group III Hall Mark Stakes (1200m) on Saturday but Lees plans to wait until later in the week to decide if the four-year-old will run at Randwick or if he will wait another week for the rescheduled Hawkesbury meeting at Rosehill.
The son of Star Witness would run in the Listed Hawkesbury Gold Rush (1100m) if Lees was to postpone his return by seven days.
Since his last run in The Hunter back in November, Graff has been acquired by Aquis in partnership with Australian Bloodstock.
He is already a Group III winner and Group I placegetter but Lees hopes to win at the top level this preparation to boost his resume in the breeding barn.
The Newcastle trainer hopes to target the Group I Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm later in this preparation.
There had been some doubt about whether that would be possible after Racing Queensland abandoned its Winter Carnival due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those plans were revitalised when RQ announced a reduced schedule for its carnival late last week. However interstate horses will still need to gain approval to enter the state as the Queensland Government has banned all bar essential travel into the state with police checkpoints at border crossings.
If RQ can get approval from the State Government, Graff will more than likely cross the border for the Winter Carnival.
“It was always the plan to head up to Queensland and that’s back on the cards to an extent now, obviously not with the same prizemoney but it is attractive for a horse like him,” Lees said.
“Aquis and Australian Bloodstock own him now so that Group I is important.”
Graff has been off the scene since the $1 million The Hunter after suffering an exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage (EIPH) in the feature when finishing 12th.
He has been off the scene since but has a pair of trials in the lead-up to his return which could come as soon as this weekend.
“We are considering our options,” Lees said.
“It is a drying week of weather but we are reluctant to run him on a wet track. We will accept and alternatively go to the Hawkesbury meeting at Rosehill the following week.
“He is going really well and has taken improvement out of every trial.”
Lees has four runners nominated for the Hall Mark and plans to accept with all four before deciding which horses will feature.
Group I winners In Her Time and Le Romain are joined by Tactical Advantage.
Le Romain is returning from a stewards imposed three-month ban after bleeding in The Hunter, while In Her Time comes through the TJ Smith where she was eighth.
“I was pleased enough with In Her Time first-up and she was chasing Nature Strip in the TJ Smith which brought a few undone,”
“This could be her last run before she retires or we could head to the Darley Crown the following week.
“Le Romain is in a similar boat to Graff after his last start but has had a good grounding with a couple of trials.
“Tactical Advantage has pleased in his two runs so far but needs it dry.”