Nolan expects further improvement from Latest Exhibition

Paul Nolan admitted to mixed emotions as Latest Exhibition chased home Monkfish at Leopardstown.

The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish beat Nolan’s stable star by a neck when they finished first and second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.

Both horses then won on their respective chase debuts, but Latest Exhibition was subsequently beaten in a Grade Two at Leopardstown.

The pair renewed rivalry in Tuesday’s Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase on the fourth and final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival – and while Monkfish ultimately won decisively, Nolan believes there is more to come from his lightly-raced gelding.

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He said: “In one way you’re delighted because he ran so well, but it’s also a little bit deflating when you’ve run such a good race and you’re still beaten.

“He was obviously beaten by a very good horse. Bryan (Cooper) said he’s going to learn an awful lot from it because (unlike the winner) our guy hadn’t got the point-to-point experience and wouldn’t have been schooled in the manner of point-to-point horses as a youngster.

“He quickened the whole way up the straight and on the day he just wasn’t good enough, but Bryan wasn’t over hard on him in the last 100 metres when he accepted defeat.

“He was a late developing horse, and I think he’s starting to look a bit better in himself, so we’ll try our best to keep him in one piece and hope there’s more improvement in him.

“As I say, he was beaten by a very good horse, but I still think we’ve got a very good horse ourselves.”

Mullins confirmed the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown in early February as the likely next target for Monkfish – and Nolan is in no rush to decide whether to let Latest Exhibition take him on once more before a return to Prestbury Park in March.

Paul Nolan (centre) still has high hopes for Latest Exhibition
Paul Nolan (centre) still has high hopes for Latest Exhibition (Niall Carson/PA)

“We’ll have a little chat with the lads (owners) and see what our options are,” the trainer added.

“It would be a fair battle to try and beat Monkfish again, with Cheltenham in mind, but we’ll certainly enter him and see what we think is the best thing to do.

“He’ll be entered in all the novice chases in Cheltenham bar the Arkle. You’ve got the RSA and the Marsh Novices’ Chase – and the National Hunt Chase is an option, too.

“We won’t rule out anything yet.”

Nolan banks on good ground for Latest Exhibition

Paul Nolan hopes quicker ground can help Latest Exhibition in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

In recent seasons the ground at the Foxrock venue has been generally good, and Nolan believes similar conditions will bring out the best in his Grade One-winning novice hurdler – who was agonisingly denied in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham by Monkfish.

A winner on his chasing debut, Latest Exhibition was then beaten on heavy ground by Pencilfulloflead in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown.

“Latest Exhibition will run in the three-mile Grade One at Leopardstown, and hopefully nicer ground will bring out a better horse,” said Wexford trainer Nolan.

“Of course we were disappointed the last day, but we are blaming the ground. I couldn’t be happier with him since.

“We probably ran him a bit too quick the last day after his beginners chase, so maybe that was a factor as well.

“He’s a horse that only does what he has to do. He’s not flashy – but having said that, we are hoping to see a different horse on not as extreme a ground at Christmas.”

Latest Exhibition will avoid heavy ground after Punchestown defeat

Paul Nolan will hunt for better ground as he plans the next steps in his Cheltenham Festival runner-up Latest Exhibition’s novice chase campaign.

The seven-year-old, second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in March, was sent off the odds-on favourite for the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown on Sunday but had to settle for minor honours again, seven lengths behind Pencilfulloflead.

That was his second start over fences after an initial course-and-distance success in a beginners’ chase last month.

Nolan put the defeat down to the heavy going, and hopes there will be better ground to be found at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.

“Of course we were disappointed – but I just think with the extreme heavy ground, possibly he didn’t just act as well on it,” said the Wexford trainer.

“On the day he was definitely beaten by a better horse – and hopefully there’ll be a little bit of not-so-heavy ground on another day, and we can head for Leopardstown at Christmas.

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“Hopefully he’ll handle the ground that bit better, but certainly that’s what we blame anyway. He just didn’t act the same or pick up the same in the really heavy conditions.”

Mrs Milner also collected a runner-up spot for Nolan over the weekend when beaten a neck by On The Blind Side in the Listed Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The five-year-old’s British rating is 7lb higher than her Irish mark, an increase Nolan felt could have cost her the race because margin of defeat was so narrow.

“Mrs Milner was good – she was just unfortunate,” he said.

“Looking at it now, she was rated 123 in Ireland, and I suppose the 7lb that she got in England unfortunately just got her beaten by that bit of a distance. If it had have been a four or five-pound hike she might have won.

“Then again, she had plenty of time to get past him (On The Blind Side) – and she didn’t. It was just unfortunate to get so near to large black type at Cheltenham, and get beaten by so little on the day.

“She’s a very consistent filly and hopefully she’ll remain consistent for the rest of the season. We were delighted with the run – it was just unfortunate to get so close.”

Nolan also sent Discorama over to Cheltenham for the Planteur At Chapel Stud Handicap Chase, in which he finished a distant fifth of six runners.

“We were disappointed with how he ran – we thought he was in great shape,” he said.

“Maybe he was just that bit too fresh, just too keen early on – and in that sort of ground if you won’t settle you’ve no chance. He just pulled too hard early on in the race, pulled his way to the front – and when that happens it’s very, very seldom over that sort of trip that you’ll finish out your race.

“He’s never been that way before, never acted that way before, and that’s why we’re just going to draw a line through it. He was just too keen – the race was basically over (for him) after four or five fences.”

Having been placed at three consecutive Cheltenham Festivals, including when third in the Grade Three Ultima Handicap Chase this year, Discorama finds himself running off a mark of 150 – which makes him tough to place.

“We’ll wait and see now – unfortunately with the programme, there’s not much for him,” added Nolan.

“He’s in no man’s land really, with regards to his mark. Do you run him in Grade Twos and Grade Ones against the top horses, where he’s more than a stone wrong on his rating? But there are times when you get a bit of luck on the day, and you never know what will happen.

“That was a bit of a plan to go to Cheltenham, that backfired on us.

“It didn’t work out, so we’ll just assess it now over the next few days. We’ll make a bit of plan from there and see how we go.”

Exhibition puts on winning show at Punchestown

Latest Exhibition looked an exciting staying prospect when making a successful debut over fences in the Bet 10 Get 10 Betdaq Virtuals Beginners Chase at Punchestown.

A Grade One-winning novice hurdler and runner-up in the Albert Bartlett on his final start last term, Paul Nolan’s seven-year-old promises to go a long way over the bigger obstacles.

His jumping may have been sketchy in the early stages, but Latest Exhibition warmed to the task as the race developed.

Taking closer order after four out under Bryan Cooper, the 6-5 favourite led approaching the final fence and went on to beat School Boy Hours by two lengths.

The winner appeared to interfere with the second on the run-in, but the places were allowed to stand following a stewards’ inquiry.

“I’m relieved. It’s our best horse and I wasn’t nervous about winning, I was nervous about a clean, safe round of jumping,” said James Nolan, assistant to his brother.

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“Bryan had been thrilled with his schooling at home and said he jumps like a two-miler and is very fast through the air. It didn’t suit early in the race that it was a bit like a handicap and Bryan just started schooling him then. 

“He was delighted with him thereafter and to be honest, if he went around with an ass he’d only just do that and only does what he has to.”

The Grade Two Florida Pearl Chase back at Punchestown next month could be Latest Exhibition’s next port of call.

“We’ll be trying to avoid Envoi Allen and he might come back here in 18 days’ time for the Florida Pearl Chase,” said Nolan.

Latest Exhibition was cut to 10-1 from 14s for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham is the “dream” for connections of Dreal Deal after Ronan McNally’s five-year-old completed a four-timer in the Download The Betdaq App Ladies Handicap Hurdle.

After two wins on the Flat and one over jumps, the 4-6 favourite still looks ahead of the handicapper. He was given a confident ride by Maxine O’Sullivan and was not hard pressed to cross the line two lengths ahead of Halsafari.

“It was a nice performance and I didn’t really know what to expect today going up 22lb, the ground was changed and he was up in grade. The handicapper was right to be fair, he told me he thought he was right and we are happy,” said McNally.

“To win four-in-a-row with any horse is amazing, but I paid a lot of money for him and I’m delighted it has worked out.

“He is in at Cork on Sunday, but I’ll ask the handicapper as it depends on what he is going to do. Ideally I don’t want to go to Cork, but if the handicapper is going to be hard, I’ll have to run and then give him a break until the spring as he is more a good ground horse.

“We all want to go to Cheltenham in the spring, but he is not as good as that yet. He needs to go up to 130-135 to go to Cheltenham and is a long way off that yet, but you can dream.”

Cask Mate (9-2) continued to make up for lost time when winning for the second time over jumps in the Bet 10 Get 10 On Betdaq Virtuals Rated Novice Hurdle.

The Noel Meade-trained seven-year-old had been off for 1,020 days before scoring at Limerick earlier in the month and stepped up by producing another pleasing display to win by 10 lengths from Dewcup under Sean Flanagan.

“I wasn’t sure if he’d get two and a half, but he (Flanagan) said he’d get another half (mile). I told him to wait, but he said he just took him there easily,” said Meade.

“He was a good horse before he got a touch of a leg and we tried a treatment on him which didn’t work and then we fired him. That is why he was off for two seasons.”

Funky Dady (33-1) scooped the 38,000 euro first prize in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final for trainer Denis Hogan and 7lb claimer Shane Mulcahy while the Jessica Harrington-trained Crosshill (4-1) bounded to an 11-length success in the Betdaq 2% Commission Exchange Maiden Hurdle under Paddy Kennedy.

Exhibition ready to display chasing prowess

Star novice hurdler Latest Exhibition makes his eagerly anticipated debut over fences at Punchestown on Wednesday.

Paul Nolan’s stable star enjoyed a fine campaign over the smaller obstacles last season, claiming the notable scalp of Gordon Elliott’s Andy Dufresne in the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle before striking Grade One gold at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

He was narrowly denied by the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish in a thrilling climax to the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and makes his first competitive appearance since in the Bet 10 Get 10 BETDAQ Virtuals Beginners Chase under Bryan Cooper.

Nolan said: “We’ve had some placed horses recently, and you wouldn’t mind getting a winner, but at the same time he seems very well and he’s as fit as we can have him at home.

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“He’s going to improve, obviously, which is the same for everyone first time out. We’ve had no interruptions and we need to get started somewhere – Punchestown is a nice, galloping track with nice fences, and we just hope to God he jumps well.

“He seems well, and it’s all about jumping – we’ll find out tomorrow if he’s a chaser or not.”

Latest Exhibition is set to face nine rivals over two and three-quarter miles – including Martin Brassil’s Longhouse Poet, Elliott’s Run Wild Fred and School Boy Hours from Noel Meade’s yard.

The most valuable event on a seven-race card is the 65,000 euro Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final, which was saved and re-scheduled following the abandonment of the Punchestown Festival in the spring due because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Likely contenders include John Queally’s Arcadian Sunrise, Adrian Murray’s course-and-distance winner Gold Speed and the Tom Mullins-trained pair of Barnaviddaun and It Could Be You.

Barnaviddaun finished fourth on his seasonal reappearance at Gowran Park at the start of the month – while It Could Be You was last seen landing a Fairyhouse bumper, having previously finished down the field in two starts over hurdles.

“They’re two similar horses,” said Mullins.

“The fact that It Could Be You won a bumper shows he’s up to to the mark of winning something like this, and he ran a nice race in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown a month ago (finished fifth).

“Barnaviddaun had a lovely run in Gowran in his first handicap, and has been in good form since.

“Both horses jump well, ran well last time out and are very well at the moment, so I’m hoping for very good runs from the two of them.”