A race with a rich tradition down the years and having won it with the likes of Mikael D’Haguenet, Boston Bob, Pont Alexandre, Briar Hill and Bellshill in recent times, Willie Mullins looks to have a strong contender in the shape of NEXT DESTINATION (NAP) (best price 6-5) in this season’s renewal. Fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, the lightly-raced five-year-old began his life over hurdles in the best possible manner with what turned out to be a thoroughly convincing display at Naas a month ago. Off the back of tidy fractions, the Dubai Destination gelding stayed on incredibly strongly in the latter stages and in pulling well clear from the last, he clocked the sort of numbers which immediately suggested we are dealing with a Graded performer.
Running the final circuit quicker than the very useful Early Doors, who took the Grade 3 novices hurdle over three furlongs shorter earlier on the same card, he clearly has speed to match is stamina and those two weapons will hopefully be the determining factor here this afternoon. As the betting suggests, Cracking Smart rates the main threat and Gordon Elliot will be keen to hold onto this prize for another year having taken this Grade 2 twelve months ago with Death Duty. An able deputy for Samcro, this strappy chasing type proved he has stamina in abundance when staying on strongly to claim a listed prize at Cork last time out and with the well-beaten third, Fabulous Saga, hacking up subsequently, he should make today’s contest a fascinating watch between the pair.
SHE’S A STAR (best price 7-1) has run with plenty of credit on her last two outings in top-class handicaps and with today’s step up in trip likely to suit, Noel Meade’s inmate can once again play a significant role in the outcome. Done for toe before staying on well behind Top Of The Ra at Punchestown two starts ago, she ran a carbon copy race when filling out the same position in a similar race at Fairyhouse 14 days ago, and having run well on her two previous visits to today’s track – including when runner-up to the mighty Death Duty in Grade 3 – the Well Chosen mare has plenty in her favour.
THE KING’S BABY (best price 33-1) has also proven herself in pattern company with an excellent effort behind Forge Meadow at Punchestown last time out and she looks to have been totally insulted by the bookmakers with her early morning quotes of 25-1. Although she could never quite lay a glove on the leaders that day, she did keep on stoically in the final half a mile and having finished just on the coat tails of subsequent scorer Dawn Shadow, a repeat of that level of performance gives her a much better chance of being competitive back in handicap company that the market suggests.
MILL QUEST (best price 16-1) has shaped pretty well on her three starts over fences to date and with the latest of those performance coming in a hot beginners chase here last time, that should set up nicely for a big run on her return to the Co Tipperary venue 24 days on. Although she never landed a blow behind the likes of Billy’s Hope and Asturia, she still posted a decent speed figure in her own right in finishing a creditable third, and now stepping up to a trip more in-keeping with her overall profile, Terence O’Brien’s inmate has the qualities to go well at a big price with a clear round (did take a crashing fall here two starts ago when going well two out).
Having looked quite threatening on the home turn at Punchestown last time, FIRST TO BOOGIE (best price 13-2) ultimately didn’t quite get home over the 2m 6f trip as well as expected, but he should turn out to be a much more potent force racing over a track where stamina has to be your number one asset. Prior to that excellent effort last time, Madeline Tylicki’s charge ran out an easy winner of a 2m 4f handicap at Naas and with Black Scorpion and Fitzhenry both going on to advertise that form since, he should prove good enough to hit the frame at the very least this afternoon.