Willie Mullins' big Cheltenham hope Next Destination shows class in Naas Grade One 1 year ago

Willie Mullins' big Cheltenham hope Next Destination shows class in Naas Grade One

No Samcro, no problem.

Gordon Elliot's young hurdling star Samcro lead the entries for the Lawlor's of Naas Grade One Novice hurdle, but the 6-year-old Gigginstown horse was pulled out by connections on Wednesday after a 'dirty scope.'

There were still some top quality hurdlers on show in the Naas showpiece. Willie Mullins' Next Destination, who was fourth in last year's bumper at the Cheltenham festival went off the 8/15 favourite, and justifiably so.

The Malcolm Denmark-owned six-year-old has a 100% strike rate over hurdles, winning two from two this season. Those performances, one of which was a 15 length victory on this same track last time out saw him become the 6-1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, and second favourite for the Ballymore Novices'.

Paul Townend's mount made it three from three here.

Those odds for the Cheltenham festival will be shortened after this performance, with Mullins' hotshot jumping impeccably all round.

He travelled well from pillar to post, and despite leading the race earlier than jockey Paul Townend might have hoped or expected, the 8-15 shot kept honest.

He galloped relentlessly up the run in, and impressively held off the challenge that came from Gordon Elliot's Cracking Smart.

He didn't have it all his own way, but Mullins will be impressed with the toughness he showed and how he stayed plugging away when the pressure came.

Townend himself, was impressed.

"It's tough out there and I'd say his ability got him home. Next Destination jumped electric and was tough when I needed him - he's improving."

Joseph O'Brien saddled the highly rated Speak Easy for the race, and the JP McManus owned five-year-old went to post as the second favourite.

He disappointed back in fifth place, but that five-year-old has plenty of good days ahead of him.

It was all about Mullins' star, however, and he's certainly one for us to keep an eye on in the build-up to the Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown next month, and in Cheltenham in March.

One wonders would he have put it up to Samcro. We'll soon find out.