Next Destination had his odds cut by several firms to 6-1 (from 10) for the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham after a comprehensive display to beat Cracking Smart in the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
The awesome Samcro heads the Ballymore market at 2-1, and Next Destination can still be backed at 10-1 with Ladbrokes and Coral for that race, partly because he is favourite for the Albert Bartlett and could therefore be expected to head there.
A dual bumper winner last season, when he finished fourth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, Next Destination was sent off the 10-11 favourite following an eye-catching start over hurdles at Naas last month, when he won a 2m3f maiden by 13 lengths.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old took the step up in class in his stride here. He fluffed the second-last but quickly put the race to bed and scored by an authoratitive five and a half lengths.
David Mullins, who was deputising for Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend, sidelined by injury and a whip ban respectively, never had to get too serious with the winner, who went away from his rivals on the climb from the final hurdle.
The Grand National-winning rider was sporting Malcolm Denmark's famous chequered silks, and he said: "He missed the second-last but when I got after him he quickly picked up the gears and won well.
"He's a good horse and there should be more to come from him."
It was a fifth win in the two-and-a-half-mile contest since 2011 for Mullins, who was previously successful with Boston Bob (2011), Pont Alexandre (2012), Briar Hill (2013) and Bellshill (2015).
Cracking Smart was one of the first off the bridle and lost his place after two out before staying on again for second, with Jetz a length and three-quarter lengths back in third.
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Cracking Smart, said: "He won over three miles last time and it looks as if we'll be going back to that trip with him. He kept galloping but was beaten well by a better horse."