Bryan Cooper pays tribute after tragic loss of Latest Exhibition

Bryan Cooper has issued a heartfelt tribute to Latest Exhibition in the wake of the fatal injury suffered by Paul Nolan’s stable star at Fairyhouse last weekend.

Cooper partnered the eight-year-old on nine of his 13 career starts, including a Grade One victory at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Latest Exhibition went on to be beaten a neck by Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and was runner-up to the same horse in two Grade One novice chases last term.

Latest Exhibition (left) in action against Monkfish at Leopardstown
Latest Exhibition (left) in action against Monkfish at Leopardstown (PA)

Nolan’s charge reverted to the smaller obstacles for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, but it proved to be his final outing.

Cooper said: “Latest Exhibition came along at a very important time in my career. He really helped me to get back on the big stage.

“It was sickening what happened to him and we’ll miss him. They’re horses of a lifetime and you don’t come across them every week.”

Cooper has been in demand from a number of Ireland’s leading stables this season, riding regularly for Gordon Elliott, Noel Meade and Willie Mullins among others.

This weekend the jockey will be on board the Mullins-trained Asterion Forlonge in Sunday’s John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, a horse he steered to an impressive course and distance victory in April.

“Asterion Forlonge is a high-class horse who’s held in high regard in Closutton,” Cooper added.

“He didn’t have the rub of the green earlier on in the season last year, but things finished off on a high note and he couldn’t have been any more impressive.

Asterion Forlonge and Bryan Cooper in winning action at Punchestown
Asterion Forlonge and Bryan Cooper in winning action at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He’s back into Grade One company now and I’m looking forward to him – he’s an exciting ride.

“I’m trying to keep everybody happy and so grateful to be getting opportunities from everyone – from Gordon, Willie, the Nolans, Noel Meade, everyone. It’s a great position to be in.

“It’s great to be getting the opportunities but you have to be seen to be making the most of them as well, so you just keep working hard but it would be very special to win on John Durkan day at Punchestown, better again if we could win the big one.”

Mrs Milner booked for Newbury outing

Cheltenham Festival heroine Mrs Milner is set to cross the Irish Sea once more for a tilt at the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

Having run out an impressive winner of the Pertemps Final at Prestbury Park in March, Paul Nolan’s mare picked up where she left off with a Listed success at Limerick last month.

Nolan acknowledges the six-year-old will have more on her plate in Friday’s Group Two feature, but is keen to see how she fares in a higher grade with a view to the rest of the campaign.

He said: “The plan is to head to Newbury. She won well in Limerick and I’m hoping she’ll come on a nice bit from that.

“We’re happy with her at home. Obviously she has to improve, but we’ve decided this is the route we’re going to take and I’m hopeful she’ll run a nice race.

“She handles nicer ground. I just hope to God it will be safe, you’d like to think it would be.

“It’s a very strange time. I know with my own farm at home, I’ve never seen the land as good for this time of the year.”

Nolan intends to pursue a similar fact-finding mission with stable star Latest Exhibition in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Runner-up to Monkfish in a couple of Grade One novice chases last season before finishing fourth in the Irish Grand National, the eight-year-old will switch back to the smaller obstacles in a race that is due to stage the return of Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle.

Latest Exhibition (left) and Monkfish at Leopardstown
Latest Exhibition (left) and Monkfish at Leopardstown (PA)

“Latest Exhibition seems well. He’s going to come on for the run, but we have to get started somewhere,” Nolan added.

“Time-wise, as regards Christmas, this seems like the best time to give him his first start.

“It’s going to be a top race. We decided to start off over hurdles, but there’s nothing written in stone.

“We’ll assess how competitive we can be at that level and we can change our minds if we have to.”

Nolan considers switch to hurdling with Latest Exhibition

Paul Nolan has yet to decide whether to keep stable star Latest Exhibition over fences or revert to hurdling this winter.

A Grade One-winning novice hurdler two seasons ago, the eight-year-old went down the novice chasing route last term and found only Monkfish too strong on a couple of occasions at the highest level.

He rounded off his campaign by finishing fourth in the Irish Grand National under a big weight – but while he will not have to contend with the sidelined Monkfish this season, Nolan admitted he is considering a switch of disciplines.

He said: “We’ve taken things slowly with him and he did a lot of slow work with his breeder Jim Mernagh beforehand.

“He’s building up and we’re very pleased with him. Hopefully we’ll make a bit of a plan with him later on.

“We’re not sure where we’re going to start off and there’s a decision to be made on whether we’re going hurdling or chasing.

“We’re very happy with where he is at the moment, but that chase division seems to be very strong, so we need to decide whether we take on those boys or go down the staying hurdle route.”

Nolan looking to Latest to rise to National challenge

Latest Exhibition bids to overcome his relative inexperience as well as defy top weight in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday.

The Paul Nolan-trained novice has had just four races over fences, but he has shown plenty of potential, especially when runner-up to Monkfish in two Grade One races.

Connections decided not to take on Monkfish again at Cheltenham last month, having suffered defeat in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last year.

“I just hope we have made the right decision in missing Cheltenham,” said Nolan.

“You can’t be afraid of one horse, but we’ve run against Monkfish three times and he’s beaten us three times.

“We just thought with the time frame, this race suited us better than Cheltenham. We had it in our minds early on the Irish National – provided he got what we thought was a favourable mark – would be his target.

“At the end of the day he’d be one of the most inexperienced horses in the field. The biggest field he’s run in was the Albert Bartlett last year. Other than that it has been relatively small fields. Of course that is a worry.

“There’s a lot of worries, but there is no point harbouring on them. When you run for prize money like this, you’re going to expect big fields and you’re going to have worries, but once the jockey is on his back and the race starts, there is nothing you can do and there is no point in worrying.

“Ideally it would have been great if Tiger Roll had stayed in, but that’s the way it is. He’s got top weight for a reason.”

Nolan reports his stable star to be in tip-top shape and expects him to stay the three miles and five furlongs.

“We couldn’t be happier with the horse. We’re just hoping we get a bit of luck in running and he comes home safe,” the County Wexford trainer went on.

“I think he will get the trip, but you never know until you go over it. I’m hoping if his jumping is good enough, I’d be surprised if the trip is a problem and the ground will be beautiful.”

Fitzhenry (right) is trainer Paul Nolan's second string in the Irish Grand National
Fitzhenry (right) is trainer Paul Nolan’s second string in the Irish Grand National (PA)

Nolan believes his other runner, Fitzhenry, could surprise a few people and run a decent race.

“He’s in good form. He had a very nice run the last day. We rode him a bit different and it seemed to work,” he said.

“I thought he galloped to the line very well. He’s got a nice weight, he’s got a good man (Darragh O’Keeffe) on his back, hopefully he runs a respectable race and he certainly has an each-way chance in my book.”

Latest Exhibition tops Irish Grand National field

Latest Exhibition heads the weights for the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday after Tiger Roll was taken out of the race at the final declaration stage.

The dual Grand National hero will head back to Aintree instead next week for the Betway Bowl.

Tiger Roll’s owners Gigginstown House Stud have four Irish National runners – Coko Beach, Mortal, Run Wild Fred and Roaring Bull – plus one of the three reserves, Eurobot.

The absence of Tiger Roll means the Paul Nolan-trained novice Latest Exhibition now carries top weight of 11st 10lb.

The eight-year-old steps into handicap company for the first time after finishing second to Monkfish in two Grade One contests at Leopardstown over the winter. He sidestepped another clash with Willie Mullins’ exciting prospect at last month’s Cheltenham Festival to wait for this weekend.

Mullins is well-represented with a team of five – Brahma Bull, Salsaretta, Agusta Gold, Dragon D’estruval and Robin De Carlow.

Among other fancied runners to stand their ground are Sempo and The Big Dog.

Escaria Ten, third in the National Hunt Challenge cup at Cheltenham, is one of four contenders for Denise Foster.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Jerrysback is the only English runner.

Energumene and Latest Exhibition in mix for Fairyhouse

Cheltenham Festival absentees Energumene and Latest Exhibition are among 12 confirmations for the Underwriting Exchange Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

Having completed a hat-trick of wins over fences with a dominant display in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in February, the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene appeared all set for a fascinating clash with Shishkin in this month’s Arkle itself.

The seven-year-old disappointingly missed out on an appearance in the Cotswolds after suffering a setback the week beforehand, but compensation may await in Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade One.

Mullins has also kept in Asterion Forlonge, Franco De Port and Janidil – while Paul Nolan specifically sidestepped Cheltenham with Latest Exhibition to wait for the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse.

However, as well as being confirmed for a race formerly known as the Powers Gold Cup, he also has the option of running in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Monday – with a decision on which race he will contest yet to be made.

Nolan said: “We’re just going to give ourselves the option.

“It looks to be a fine week, with a few showers towards the weekend, so I think the ground is going to be beautiful.

“We have to decide on Friday morning, so we’ll see.”

Latest Exhibition (left) may have avoided Monkfish but Energumene could lie in wait
Latest Exhibition (left) may have avoided Monkfish – but Energumene could lie in wait (PA Wire)

Other contenders for Sunday’s feature event include Denise Foster’s pair of Andy Dufresne and Conflated.

Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final earlier in the afternoon.

Echoes In Rain, Gauloise and Royal Illusion are part of a seven-strong Mullins squad, with Shark Hanlon’s bargain buy Skyace – fourth in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – also one of 21 possibles.

Ronan McNally’s stable star Dreal Deal is entered for both of the two Grade Two races on the card – the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle and the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle.

However, he is not certain to line up in either, having missed the Cheltenham Festival because of aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould.

McNally said: “He’s not 100 per cent quite yet – but he’s getting there, I think.

“If we go to Fairyhouse he’d have a Grade Two penalty, so I’ll probably aim for Aintree to be honest because it will give us more time as well.

“He’s entered in all the Grade Ones over two miles, two and a half and three. Aintree is sharp enough, so I would be looking at the two-four and three-miler – but I wouldn’t discount the two-miler.

“His form over two miles is very good, so we’ll have a look and see what is the weakest race. There weren’t many runners at Cheltenham in the novice races, and those that ran will have had hard races.

“I think we’ll run in the weakest race if I’m honest.

“It was a shame to miss Cheltenham – but we wouldn’t have beaten Appreciate It, so second would have been the best we could hope for. It might not have done us any harm not going, and it gives us a fighting chance for Aintree.”

McNally has an entry in the Randox Grand National in the shape of Thyestes Chase winner The Jam Man – but he is in a similar situation.

“With The Jam Man, he’s just not quite there yet either,” he said.

“We’ve 12 days. He is coming, but he’s not there yet.”

Punchestown plan for Mrs Milner

Paul Nolan plans to head to Punchestown next with his Cheltenham Festival heroine Mrs Milner.

Nolan’s Pertemps Final winner has recovered well from last week’s trip to Britain, and Nolan has already pencilled in a potential target at the six-day Punchestown Festival – which begins at the end of April.

“We were delighted with her,” said the County Wexford trainer.

“She’s very well – she came out of the race great.

“We’ll make some decisions shortly – she’ll probably aim for something at Punchestown.”

Having won a hugely competitive race by five lengths off a mark of 134, Mrs Milner may be heading out of handicaps.

“There’s not much for her – she’s probably at the stage now where she’s coming out of handicap company, up near the 140s,” added Nolan.

“In Ireland it’s very, very difficult to win off top-weight in a handicap – so she’ll probably have to take on horses at graded level now, which is not simple.

“At least if she moves out of the fillies’ races she has a 7lb allowance – and as we’ve seen from Cheltenham, it’s been a year for the fillies.

Mrs Milner clears the last to win the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle during day three of the Cheltenham Festival
Mrs Milner clears the last to win the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“She’s only a young mare, and if she continues to improve, maybe she can throw a bit of a blow at the highest level.”

Nolan also reflected on the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase performance of Monkfish, who is the three-time nemesis to date of his own high-class novice Latest Exhibition.

The two rivals first crossed paths in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival, and have twice met in Grade One chases since graduating to fences.

On each occasion Monkfish has prevailed, leaving Nolan to sidestep the Festival in order to avoid another unfavourable encounter with the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut.

Latest Exhibition (left) taking on Monkfish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase during the Leopardstown Christmas Festival
Latest Exhibition (left) taking on Monkfish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase during the Leopardstown Christmas Festival (PA)

Monkfish was triumphant again at Cheltenham, but his somewhat sticky round of jumping produced a less emphatic win than expected and caused many to ponder how Latest Exhibition would have fared had he run.

“He still won,” Nolan said of Monkfish’s Cheltenham performance.

“People say to me ‘you should never be afraid of taking on one horse’, but I’d taken him on three times and been beaten three times, so there was a little bit of an inevitability about things as well.

“He still won the race – he did make mistakes, but he still picked up well and went to the line.

“We can all say ‘maybe this’ or ‘maybe that’, but the horse still won the race – and there’s no reason to think the tighter track on the inside would have suited my horse at Cheltenham either.

“We made a decision and we said that no matter what happens, we’re not going to be sorry.”

Latest Exhibition and Bryan Cooper celebrate winning the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle
Latest Exhibition and Bryan Cooper celebrate winning the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle (PA)

Latest Exhibition will head next to Fairyhouse, for the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase. Envoi Allen holds an entry there, but appears more likely to wait for Punchestown.

“I hope to God we can come back, because I’d love to end up winning with him before the end of the season,” said Nolan.

“He’s only won once this season and if I was told that at the start of the campaign, I’d certainly be disappointed.

“So we’re trying to rectify that – and hopefully we’ll have made the right decision come Fairyhouse.”

Naas option for Latest Exhibition

Latest Exhibition is a surprise name among the entries for the Bar One Racing Directors Plate at Naas.

Paul Nolan has given his stable star the option of running in Sunday’s Grade Three over two and a half miles before heading to Fairyhouse at Easter.

Nolan had last week announced that a return trip to Cheltenham for the 2020 Albert Bartlett runner-up was unlikely, having already chased home his Festival conqueror Monkfish twice more over fences since.

Latest Exhibition (left) would have won a further three Grade Ones if not for Monkfish
Latest Exhibition (left) would have won a further three Grade Ones if not for Monkfish (Simon Cooper/PA)

“We’ll make a final decision closer to the weekend – we’ve just given ourselves the option,” Nolan said of the eight-year-old’s Naas entry.

“We’re almost sure we won’t be going to Cheltenham, but we’re leaving it until the last minute just in case anything untoward happens.

“We’re just giving ourselves an option this weekend. If we hadn’t entered there was no decision to make.

“We’re looking at the Ryanair Gold Cup or the Irish National at Fairyhouse at Easter.

“We’ll make our  mind up a little bit later whether we run in Naas or not.”

Tom Mullins’ Court Maid, Willie Mullins’ Blackbow and Harrie are also among nine entries.

Brahma Bull and Coko Beach head the weights for the Leinster National on the same card.

Also in the mix is Cabaret Queen, who has already won the Munster and Kerry Nationals for her Syndicates Racing connections.

“It’s nice to have Naas as an option for Cabaret Queen,” said Jack Cantillon, manager of the syndicate.

Cabaret Queen with some of her owners following her Munster National win
Cabaret Queen with some of her owners following her Munster National win (Thomas Weekes)

“Bar One Racing are great supporters of the sport – and if she wasn’t to go to Cheltenham, where she holds an entry in the Mares’ Chase, we’d love to go here for the Bar One Racing Leinster National.

“As a Grade A Chase, it’s a Grade One on a catalogue page – which makes it particularly appealing for mares.

“Cabaret Queen has been brilliant for us, as the first horse we bought. She won the Munster National and the Kerry National, so it would be a nice feather in the cap to add the Bar One Racing Leinster National to that – on our way to our bid to claim the ultimate National, the Aintree Grand National.”

Latest Exhibition set to stay at home and wait for Fairyhouse

Latest Exhibition, runner-up in the Albert Bartlett at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, is likely to sidestep this year’s meeting in favour of an appearance at Fairyhouse.

Paul Nolan’s stable star was beaten just a neck into second place by Monkfish 12 months ago, but has found the Willie Mullins-trained gelding a very tough nut to crack in Grade One novice chases at Leopardstown on his last couple of starts.

The eight-year-old has the option of taking on Monkfish for a fourth time in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, while holding alternative engagements in the shorter Marsh Novices’ Chase and the longer National Hunt Chase.

Latest Exhibition (left) and Monkfish locked in battle at Cheltenham last year
Latest Exhibition (left) and Monkfish locked in battle at Cheltenham last year (Simon Cooper/PA)

However, Nolan is currently in favour of keeping Latest Exhibition at home.

He said: “That would be the thinking at the minute (missing Cheltenham).

“He’ll have an entry in the Irish Grand National and an entry in the Ryanair Gold Cup in Fairyhouse.

“Things can happen and things can change, but unless something changes, that’s the plan – to go for one of the races at Fairyhouse.”

In Latest Exhibition’s absence, Nolan’s sole Cheltenham raider is likely to be Mrs Milner in the Pertemps Final.

The daughter of Flemensfirth was narrowly beaten in the Cotswolds earlier in the season, since when she has finished fourth in a Pertemps qualifier at Leopardstown before falling in a mares’ handicap hurdle at the same venue last month.

Mrs Milner (right) on her way to victory at Galway
Mrs Milner (right) on her way to victory at Galway (Niall Carson/PA)

“We’ll probably bring Mrs Milner for the Pertemps and that’s it,” Nolan added.

“She’s been fine since her fall. For a slight mare, she’s very tough and got over her fall very quickly – she’s certainly tough and so brave.

“We ran over a shorter trip the last day to keep her against her own sex, but I think she’s better over a trip.

“With just the one horse running I probably won’t travel myself, what with all the restrictions and everything.”

Nolan seeking winning opportunity for Latest Exhibition

Paul Nolan will do everything in his power to find an opportunity for Latest Exhibition to get back on the winning trail after again finding Monkfish too strong at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Just a neck separated the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish and Nolan’s stable star when the pair finished first and second respectively in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last March.

However, Monkfish was an authoritative winner when they met in a Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period – and was even more dominant when blowing his rivals away in last weekend’s Flogas Novice Chase.

Nolan said: “In fairness, we were well and truly beaten. I don’t think it’s my fellow regressing, I just think Monkfish is a year younger and still improving.

“Maybe my fellow didn’t quite run up to total scratch, but I don’t have any excuses really.

“At the end of the day, my horse was a good second and had some good horses behind him.”

Nolan now faces the difficult choice of allowing Latest Exhibition to meet Monkfish again in next month’s Festival Novices’ Chase, or potentially drop back in distance to take on the similarly exciting and unbeaten Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

He does have a third Festival option in the form of the three-mile-six-furlong National Hunt Chase, while Nolan is not ruling out the possibility of his charge missing Cheltenham altogether in favour of an easier option on home soil.

“Monkfish just looks to be an exceptional animal. I didn’t think we’d seen a horse to match Envoi Allen in the last number of years, but he possibly proved that he could,” Nolan continued.

“It’s unfortunate for me that it’s difficult to avoid them. If I go back in trip in Cheltenham I take on Envoi Allen, or I stay where I am and take on Monkfish again. We’ve never met Envoi Allen, whereas we’ve met Monkfish three times and he’s beaten us three times.

“We’ll have to make decisions about Cheltenham, whether we stay at home and go for the Ryanair Gold Cup or the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse instead.

“People always say you shouldn’t be afraid of one horse, but you’re dealing with horses that don’t seem to make mistakes and there don’t seem to be any flaws in them.”

Paul Nolan (right) wants to get Latest Exhibition back on the winning trail
Paul Nolan (right) wants to get Latest Exhibition back on the winning trail (David Davies/PA)

He added: “I don’t mind listening to different opinions, but you have to be realistic and I don’t want to finish second again – I would prefer to win a winners-of-one race somewhere than be second in a Grade One.

“For the horse’s sake as well, he’s getting very hard races and finishing second. It’s always a relief to run respectably and run well, but seconds are no good to me – I want winners.

“We’re going to have a chat with the owners and weigh up our options.

“If you’d told me at the start of the season that after four races we’d have won one and finished second three times I’d have been disappointed, so I’m going to do my best to rectify that and run the horse in the race I think he has the best chance of winning.”

Nolan weighing up Leopardstown options for Latest Exhibition

Ground conditions are likely to be key in deciding which race Latest Exhibition will contest at this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Paul Nolan’s stable star was widely expected to take on the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish for a third time in the Flogas Novice Chase on Sunday, having filled the runner-up spot behind him in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham last March and at Leopardstown in December.

However, Nolan also left Latest Exhibition in Saturday’s Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle at the confirmation stage on Tuesday – and the Enniscorthy-based trainer is in no rush to commit to either race just yet.

He said: “We’re just keeping our options open. We’re not 100 per cent sure yet and I don’t want to say any more than that.

“They’re both good races. The Flogas is a longer trip and possibly empties you out a bit more for Cheltenham.

“We’re hoping to God they don’t get too much rain, basically. If they got a couple of days for it to dry out and the ground was on the nicer side of soft, I’d be happier.

“At this time of year, coming into the spring, you’d be hoping that if it got a few dry days Leopardstown could dry up very quickly.”

Latest Exhibition holds entries in the two-and-a-half-mile Marsh Novices’ Chase, the three-mile Festival Novices’ Chase and the National Hunt Chase over three miles and six furlongs at next month’s Cheltenham Festival – and Nolan admits there is no easy option.

He added: “The novice chasers seem to be of a very high standard this year. Even if you went for the National Hunt Chase, you might meet Venetia Williams’ horse (Royal Pagaille), who looks a potential Gold Cup horse.

“You’d imagine no matter what race Envoi Allen goes for he’ll win it. Even if he was in the Gold Cup, he might win it – to me he looks a step above everything and the real ‘Mr Unbeatable’ in my book.

“They seem to be an exceptional bunch of novices. You look at the Irish Gold Cup this weekend, there’s only five horses left in it – and if a top novice like Monkfish ran in it, they wouldn’t look out of place.”

Latest Exhibition will lead a four-strong Nolan team at Leopardstown.

The trainer said: “We have Mrs Milner and Tucanae in the mares’ handicap hurdle on Sunday.

“I thought Mrs Milner ran a nice race in the Pertemps qualifier in Leopardstown the last day, when we probably made too much use of her.

“She’s in the three-mile handicap hurdle this weekend as well, but we’re thinking of dropping her back in trip to run against the mares.

“Tucanae was a bit disappointing in Clonmel last time, but hopefully she’ll run there as well, and we’ll run Fitzhenry in the two-mile-five Leopardstown Handicap Chase.”

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.

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.

“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.

“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.