Samcro may be missing but Next Destination certainly sprinkles some stardust on the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle.
While Gordon Elliott was not 100 per cent happy with Samcro earlier in the week, he would have faced a formidable opponent in Willie Mullins’ Next Destination in any case.
A top-grade performer in bumpers last season, finishing fourth at Cheltenham and second at Punchestown, he bolted up on his hurdling debut at Naas and followed up in the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle.
Next Destination steps up to Grade One level this weekend for a race Mullins has won five times in the last eight years.
Mullins said: “Bringing Next Destination back to Naas has been the plan for some time.
“He is a horse that has improved hugely this season and we were very impressed with him when he won his maiden hurdle at Naas in November.”
Mullins also saddles Duc Des Genievres, who is making his Irish debut, having won his only race in France over hurdles.
The trainer added: ” This race is just really well placed in the calendar just after Christmas and it suits horses that are probably going along the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle road at Cheltenham.”
Joseph O’Brien runs Speak Easy, who won on his debut under Rules at Navan displaying a decent turn of foot.
He had plenty of options this weekend but owner JP McManus and his team decided they would learn more about him running against the best.
“When you win a maiden hurdle you don’t have many options, but I think both the trip and Naas would probably suit him. It has the look of a good race,” said O’Brien.
Noel Meade is double-handed with the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Athenean joined by Patricia Hunt’s Moyross.
Moyross is two from two over hurdles, but both of those victories have come over distances further than the two and a half miles he faces on Sunday.
Athenean opened his account over hurdles at Cork last month.
Meade said: “Moyross has been good over hurdles at Galway and Cork. Going back in trip would be the one worry we have as three miles probably suits him better, but it is going to be heavy ground, which will suit him.
“Athenean is in good form and we are happy with him. Two and a half miles would look like a trip that will suit him.”
Gigginstown are also represented by the Elliott-trained pair of Cracking Smart and Blow By Blow, while Jessica Harrington’s Jetz completes the line-up.