Samcro and Next Destination ready for intriguing clash at Naas


Samcro, clear favourite for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and Next Destination, market leader for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, are set for a Sunday showdown at Naas.

Gordon Elliott trains eight of the 15 acceptors for the 2m4f Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas Novice Hurdle, the headline act in Ireland this weekend, and speaking on Tuesday said: "We've had this race in mind for Samcro since he won the Monksfield Hurdle at Navan in November.

"We think the world of him and the plan is to run him, and maybe a couple of others, once we're happy with him when he works tomorrow or on Thursday."

Samcro, winner of his only point-to-point, all three of his bumpers and both his starts over hurdles, bypassed a couple of races to wait for this Sunday's event which was upgraded to Grade 1 level in 2015 and which Elliott landed with Death Duty a year ago.

Gigginstown's potential superstar is a best-priced 2-1 for the Ballymore, with upwards of 10-1 available in places about others in ante-post lists.

Elliott has won four of the six Grade 1 hurdle races run in Ireland this season, and it might have been five had Mengli Khan not run out when leading two out at Leopardstown last week.

Mengli Khan, winner of the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month, is also among the Elliott eight remaining in Sunday's contest after Tuesday's forfeits but, according to Elliott, he will miss the race.

Willie Mullins, who was successful in 2015 with McKinley and with Bellshill two years ago, confirmed Next Destination – a best-priced 6-1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett – an intended runner.

"The Naas race has been the plan for Next Destination since he won the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle last month and he'll be heading there on Sunday," Mullins said of the Malcolm Denmark-owned six-year-old, who won his maiden hurdle by 13 lengths at Naas in November.

The acceptors also include the Noel Meade-trained Moyross, winner of both his starts over hurdles, and the Joseph O'Brien-trained Speak Easy, a six-length winner of a maiden at Navan on his racecourse debut last month.

O'Brien also has Speak Easy engaged in the 32Red Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday and said: “I’m happy with Speak Easy and it is possible he’ll go to Naas on Sunday. 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.”

Naas manager Tom Ryan agreed and said: "Our Grade 1 race got a great entry and there are plenty of good horses left in at this stage. Let's hope it carries through to the final declaration stage on Friday.

"Our ground is soft to heavy and I'd imagine the word 'heavy' will be in the official description on Sunday – there's more rain about. Temperatures are due to dip later in the week but we don't expect that will present any problems."