Big Naas run can make Cheltenham the Next Destination
Next Destination stops off at Naas this afternoon on the journey that Willie Mullins is hoping will take the five-year-old all the way to the top. His destination today is the Grade One Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle, the most prestigious race run at the track all year.
The gelding is familiar with the course as he made a winning debut over hurdles there in November under Paul Townend, his jockey for this afternoon's test. The ground Next Destination encountered on his first visit to Naas was similarly testing to what he faces today.
A step up several levels to the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle on his next outing was no challenge for him, and he easily accounted for a field that included two of his rivals today. According to Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father Willie, the first Grade One of 2018 was preferred for Next Destination over the Christmas contests.
"This race has been the plan for Next Destination since before Christmas. He won his maiden hurdle at Naas and it is always nice to have course form. Two and a half miles looks like it will suit him after his win at Navan."
Naturally the Mullins' team is looking further for the son of Dubai Destination and Cheltenham is one place they feel he is capable of reaching.
"We are hoping at this stage that he might make into a horse for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham and we'll find out a bit more after today," Mullins added.
His cousin David will ride Duc Des Genievres for the team and he is an interesting runner this afternoon as it is his first run in Ireland, but the four-year-old does not lack experience.
"We saw at Leopardstown last week, it is never any harm to have back-up in these races," said Mullins. "Duc Des Genievres won his maiden hurdle in France in May, so is slightly more difficult to place. He is a horse we like a lot."
Cracking Smart, one of two horses in the race for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud, chased Next Destination home at Navan on December 17. Prior to that Davy Russell's mount won a Listed hurdle over three miles at Cork in November.
Elliott's second runner is 2016 Grade One Attheraces.com Punchestown Champion bumper winner Blow By Blow, who laboured when winning the maiden hurdle at that Navan meeting last month.
The well-bred Speak Easy represents trainer Joseph O'Brien, jockey Barry Geraghty and owner JP McManus in the race. The first, and sadly only, foal out of the talented For Bill has been challenged by his young trainer to step up from his debut win in a maiden at Navan earlier in December.
Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus, said: "He lacks a bit of experience for a race like that, but he's in good form and we'll learn a lot from the race. He'll have learnt a lot from Navan and we'll learn a lot more from him on Sunday."
Moyross, unbeaten so far over hurdles, and Cork maiden hurdle winner Athenean represent Noel Meade in the race while Jessica Harrington saddles Jetz, which was third behind Next Destination and Cracking Smart at Navan.
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