Next Destination was made to pull out all the stops before claiming a thrilling victory in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old won his first three starts over hurdles, including a Grade One success at Naas, before finishing third behind Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Stepping up to three miles for the first time, he was the 5-4 favourite to rediscover the winning trail in the hands of Paul Townend and travelled strongly for much of the way.
Just when it looked as though victory was assured, Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work lunged late, but Next Destination held him off by a neck.
Colin Tizzard’s British challenger Kilbricken Storm, winner of the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, was the same distance away in third.
Mullins said: “I couldn’t see him winning at any stage until he got his head in front, and when Davy Russell (on Delta Work) came up behind, it seemed to spur our fella on.
“He’s lazy and if you remember back to when he won in Naas, he was the opposite and nearly threw away a race by being too keen.
“Paul was able to settle him early on today and keep everything for the end.
“He could easily go chasing next season, but I’ll have to discuss that with Mr (Malcolm) Denmark (owner).
“He’ll probably start off chasing and if it doesn’t work out he can go back hurdling. He could be a top-class hurdler in the staying division.”
For Townend the victory provided Grade One redemption following his costly error aboard Al Boum Photo in Tuesday’s Growise Champion Novice Chase, which resulted in a 21-day ban for the rider.
“He was tough and he had to pull out all the stops there. It rode a solid race,” said Townend.
“Yesterday is yesterday and I’ll put it behind me now. I have a good man behind me.”