Next Destination will face seven rivals when he bids to enhance his growing reputation in the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
The Grade One contest was due to stage a mouth-watering clash between the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old and Gordon Elliott’s Samcro, but with the latter ruled out earlier in the week, Next Destination will be an odds-on favourite to extend his unbeaten record over hurdles to three.
Next Destination was just behind the very best in the bumper sphere last season, but could not have been more impressive in winning on his hurdling debut at Naas and in the Navan Novice Hurdle.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father Willie, said; “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.
“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 Sunday.”
The champion trainer also saddles Duc Des Genievres, who makes his Irish debut after winning his only start in France.
Mullins added: “We saw at Leopardstown last week, it is never any harm to have back up in these races.
“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.”
In Samcro’s absence, Elliott relies upon Blow By Blow and Cracking Smart.
Joseph O’Brien’s Speak Easy created a huge impression when winning on his hurdling debut at Navan, but faces a huge step up in class.
Owner JP McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry 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.”