Ballymore looks the race for Next Destination says Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins pointed punters in the direction of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after Next Destination won the first Grade 1 hurdle of the year in Ireland at Naas on Sunday.
After Next Destination's success under Paul Townend in the 2m4f Lawlor's Of Naas Novices' Hurdle, Mullins said: "He'll be entered for the Albert Bartlett but I'd imagine the Ballymore will be his race. He'll get a better-run race at Cheltenham. Whether he'll run again before the festival I don't know."
Paddy Power reacted to Mullins' comments by cutting the unbeaten hurdler to 7-1 (from 8) for the 2m5f Ballymore and pushing him out to 7-1 (from 4) for the Albert Bartlett, run over three furlongs further.
Mullins' festive spirits had been severely tested by a Leopardstown Christmas Festival meeting at which some of his high-profile performers failed to shine – Faugheen was pulled up, Nichols Canyon suffered a fatal injury, Min was disqualified and Yorkhill and Djakadam both flopped.
However, Ireland's champion trainer went into yesterday's meeting having sent out 15 winners since Christmas and Next Destination was the middle leg of a Naas treble for the trainer, who was also successful with Demi Sang and Asthuria.
The Malcolm Denmark-owned Next Destination, who was fourth in last year's Weatherbys Champion Bumper, delivered a third win in the 2m4f event for Mullins since it was upgraded to Grade 1 status in 2015.
He had won his two previous starts over hurdles easily, including a Grade 2 race at Navan, but he was forced to work harder for a third success.
Mullins, who won the race with McKinley in 2015 and Bellshill in 2016, added: "Next Destination was able to overcome the slow pace which didn't suit him and which didn't allow him to settle. His jumping was very good throughout and because of it he found himself in front a bit soon. It's very testing out there and he handled it well."
Townend said: "He jumped electric and was tough when he needed to be. It got a bit messy but ability got him through. He seems to be improving. He's growing up and getting to know the game."
BoyleSports left the winner unchanged at 8-1 for the Ballymore but shortened Elliott's absent Samcro to 7-4 (from 2).
Runner-up Cracking Smart, who had finished five and a half lengths behind Next Destination at Navan last month, stayed on well to get within one length of the Mullins-trained six-year-old.
"I'm delighted with that run and I'd imagine he'll go straight to Cheltenham for the Albert Bartlett. That looks the race for him," said trainer Gordon Elliott of Cracking Smart.
Duc Des Genievres, a stablemate of the winner, was three lengths back in third, delighting Mullins who said: "He's run a cracking race considering it was only the second run of his life. He won his only start in France and after that performance he'll be getting Cheltenham entries."
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