by ANNIE DALE Next Destination has endured disappointment in his two previous visits to the Cheltenham Festival, but will return for his third attempt at success when he competes in the RSA Chase in March. Willie Mullins’ charge has the right pedigree, although he has not managed to get over the line during the week-long event. Mullins will be hopeful that it will be third time lucky for the Irish horse, who has been extremely impressive at every venue other than Cheltenham in his career.
The bay gelding is backed in the Cheltenham Festival 2019 odds at 7/1 to win the RSA Chase to make the breakthrough at the racecourse, although it will require a special performance to secure the crown with Santini and Delta Work also being aimed at the race. Next Destination has a good record, but once and for all he needs to put his demons at Cheltenham to bed.
Mullins’ charge made his first appearance at the Festival in 2017 in only the second race of his career. He competed in the Champion Bumper and was priced at 10/1 to win the event, narrowly behind the leading contenders Cause Toujours and Fayonagh. Although the Irish horse put forward a solid performance, it was not good enough to claim the win as his compatriot Fayonagh triumphed, while Next Destination was forced to settle for fourth place, losing out on third by a neck. His first season would end on a low note when the bay gelding failed to fire at the Kildare Post Flat Race at Punchestown, finishing second.
He returned for the new season at Naas in the Maiden Hurdle and bounced back with a brilliant performance. Paul Townend took to the saddle and guided the Irish horse to a dominant victory, finishing 12 lengths ahead of his nearest rival Someday, displaying great pace down the stretch. Next Destination sustained his level of form at his next event in the Navan Novice Hurdle. The bay gelding’s display at Naas saw him regain the confidence of the bookies, installing him as the favourite for the race. The Irish horse did not disappoint as David Mullins guided his charge gradually through the field before taking control of the meet two fences out. Next Destination upped the ante down the straight to finish five-and-a-half lengths ahead of Cracking Smart.
In his first race of 2018, Cracking Smart was again a tough opponent for the Irish horse to beat. The two horses duelled it out over the two-mile event, but once again Next Destination had the edge when it mattered the most, earning the victory to send him into Cheltenham and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with momentum. He faced tough competition in the form of Samcro, who was the overwhelming favourite. Even with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, the six-year-old was not able to impact the top of the race. A strong surge at the line allowed him to snatch third place away from Scarpeta, but he was a long way from challenging Samcro for glory.
Mullins opted to end the season by putting his charge forward for the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle – his first three-mile event. Townend took to the saddle and made a steady start with the Irish horse, sitting in the middle of the field. He was able to up the ante at the right moment, even overcoming a mistake two fences out. Down the straight Next Destination displayed his speed and stamina to take the crown, defeating Delta Work on the line by a neck. The result will give confidence Mullins that the bay gelding may be able to deliver at Cheltenham in the three-mile RSA Chase in March 2019.