The opening Grade 1 race of 2018 promises to start the year in style as 15 horses stand their ground for Sunday’s Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles.
Previous winners of this prestigious €90,000 race include Death Duty (2017), Bellshill (2016), Mckinley (2015) and Briar Hill (2014). Irish Champion National Hunt trainer Willie Mullins has won the race four of the last seven years.
His main title rival, Gordon Elliott, who claimed the Grade 1 contest with Gigginstown House Stud’s Death Duty last season, is hoping his unbeaten stable star Samcro will step up to Grade 1 company for the first time when he faces impressive Naas maiden hurdle winner Next Destination from the Mullins yard.
Elliott has left Grade 1 winning hurdler Mengli Khan, who departed at the second last hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival last week, in the field. The Co. Meath handler is responsible for eight of the remaining 15 entries, while along with Next Destination, Mullins could also run Carter McKay and French recruit Duc Des Geniervres who was a winner on his only start in France before joining Mullins.
Joseph O’Brien has picked the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle as the next stepping point for his well-bred five-year-old, Speak Easy, who was very impressive when winning on his hurdling debut at Navan last month.
O’Brien 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.”
Also included in the list of entries are Noel Meade’s impressive two-time hurdle winner Moyross, and his stable companion Athenean, while Jessica Harrington may be represented by Jetz.