Cheltenham 2018: Samcro and Next Destination on course for a mouthwatering battle in Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Gordon Elliott is confident Samcro can live up to expectations by passing his toughest to date in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday.
Regarded by many as the banker of the meeting, the six-year-old will bid to strike gold at the top level for the second race in succession by stretching his unbeaten run under rules to seven.
Elliott is seeking his first victory in the race and speaking in his Betfair column, he said: "Samcro is an absolute pleasure to train, he just does everything so easy at home and is very obliging and laid back.
"Unbeaten in his six starts, he always does it well, but obviously this will be the biggest task of his career and he may not find things quite as easy as he has done in recent runs but we are still confident.
"On his latest appearance, dropping back to two miles at Leopardstown, he was again impressive and absolutely loved the ground so will enjoy the current conditions. He is our best chance of the day and I am very much looking forward to him running."
Connections of Next Destination, who is one of four runners in the race for trainer Willie Mullins alongside Brahma Bull, Duc De Genievres and Scarpeta, hope he can preserve his unbeaten record over hurdles by putting his previous visit to the meeting to good use.
Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: "He ran very well in the Champion Bumper last year so we know he handles the track and the atmosphere of the place, which are big questions marks for Samcro.
"He has improved again for going over hurdles and he seems to jump very well. The soft ground will make it more of a stamina test, which is probably to his advantage.
"Samcro does set the standard and he deserves to be the price he is, but we are expecting him to give him more of a race than he has had before."
Tom George remains optimistic that Black Op can atone for his defeat in a Grade Two at the track in January and reward his owner Roger Brookhouse for adopting a patient approach.
George said: "He was unlucky last time as he jumped the hurdles nicely, then made a mistake at the last. He stumbled on landing and lost all momentum.
"He is a strong-travelling horse and he coped with the soft ground last time. He appears to be the best of the British challenge.
"The other thing to his advantage is that is he is a year older than most of them. He has really strengthened up mentally and physically as he is a big, rangy horse
"Roger Brookhouse has let me take my time with him. He has really strengthened up mentally and physically and it will be nice for Roger to have the chance to reap the rewards."