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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.

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“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.”

Discorama aiming to realise Nolan’s dream

Paul Nolan will travel to Aintree for a tilt at the race he has has always dreamed of winning – the Randox Grand National.

A sound jumper and a proven stayer, Discorama is set to carry a handy racing weight of 10st 6lb and is reported to be in fine fettle as the big race approaches.

Discorama did not line at the Cheltenham Festival, side-stepping the meeting in favour of a trip to Liverpool – having run well at Prestbury Park for the previous three seasons without enjoying a victory.

In fact, despite a string of admirable performances in graded races, Discorama has not won at all since triumphing on his chasing debut in 2018 – something County Wexford-based trainer Nolan attributes to both his running style and a degree of misfortune.

“He is due a bit of luck,” he said.

“He’s been placed at three Cheltenham Festivals, and he’s always off the pace that little bit – you need so much luck in running when you do that.

“You need things to happen in front of you. You need to be very lucky – and unfortunately, so many times he just didn’t have that.

“He’s certainly a horse we’d love to get his head in front, but it’s not easy with the way he runs and the way he stays behind the bridle a little bit.

Discorama (left) in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase during the 2019 Cheltenham Festival
Discorama (left) in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase during the 2019 Cheltenham Festival (Nigel French/PA)

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“You have to sit and suffer – we’ve tried different ways of running him, and they didn’t seem to suit him.”

Nolan has trained three Grand National entrants thus far – with Colonel Rayburn pulling up in both 2005 and 2006 and Joncol meeting the same fate in 2013.

“When you train horses, there are the races that you dream about – and the National is certainly one of them,” he said.

“The Gold Cup, the Irish National, the Irish Gold Cup – they’re the races everyone’s always taking about.

“You have your favourite races, and certainly the English National captures the heart of millions of people.

“The horse that wins it becomes a household name for a certain bit of time. It would absolutely be a dream come true if he was able to win.”

That dream is shared with the horse’s joint owner Andrew Gemmell, famously associated with the prolific staying hurdler Paisley Park and who shares Discorama with Thomas Friel.

Gemmell was not able to be at Cheltenham, where Paisley Park finished a gallant third in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

But limitations on owners attending tracks have since eased, and he is looking forward to being back on course for Discorama’s run at Aintree.

“It would be fantastic if he could put on a good show at Aintree,” he said.

“It’s everyone’s dream to win the National.

“He’s been a very consistent horse and he’s had three good runs at Cheltenham.”

Paisley Park will also travel to Liverpool, taking up an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle on the same day as the Grand National.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham very well, and so he should be ready to go,” Gemmell said of Emma Lavelle’s stable star.

“We’d like a bit of rain beforehand, but he should be great.

“It’ll be fantastic to be back – it’s really exciting and it will be a dream come true to run both of them at Aintree.”

Nolan was also absent for the Cheltenham Festival, missing Mrs Milner’s triumph in the Pertemps Final, but he will be attendance at Aintree and is delighted Discorama’s owners will be too.

“Hopefully everything stays on track, and I can go there. I do intend to travel myself,” he said.

“Andrew Gemmell and Tom Friel, they’re the two guys that own him, so it’d be great for the lads as well.

“Andrew was so disappointed that he couldn’t get to see Paisley Park go to Cheltenham.

“Thankfully the restrictions have been lifted, and that’ll allow owners to go to Aintree. That’s a huge bonus.”

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.

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“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.

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“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.”

Mount Ida scales seemingly impossible heights at Cheltenham

Mount Ida put up an amazing performance to come from last to first and claim the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Leading two out in the hands of Jack Kennedy, the 3-1 favourite gradually went clear to give Denise Foster a second Festival winner after taking over the licence at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House Stables.

Touching 999-1 in-running on the exchanges, Mount Ida was almost detached from the rest of the field in the early stages of the three-and-a-quarter-mile stamina test, but she got going on the final circuit.

She made stealthy progress and was cantering turning for home. Kennedy made sure she finished off the job and his mount did it in style to win by six and a half lengths from Cloudy Glen. Shantou Flyer was three-quarters of a length away in third. Hold The Note was a further 13 lengths back in fourth.

Rachael Blackmore came down on Plan Of Attack at the third-last fence when holding every chance.

Kennedy – who suffered heartbreak in the opening race of the day when Envoi Allen fell – said: “I was lucky they were going quick, she was doing her best work at the finish.

“We thought she’d stay, but I’d planned it going a bit smoother in the early part. I just had to make do what I could from there, luckily I had a very willing partner.

“We were hoping she’d run a big race, we thought she might be thereabouts if things went smoothly, but I thought my chances were out of the window after four fences.

“At the top of the hill I was fairly happy and I ended up getting there too soon.

“It was a massive thrill, especially after the day I’d had, probably one of the most satisfactory winners I’ve had.”

The Shunter won a £100,000 bonus for his connections when beating 20 rivals in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase.

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The Emmet Mullins-trained eight-year-old scooped the windfall with a convincing display in the competitive two-and-a-half-mile affair.

Mullins selected this race from five engagements for The Shunter, who qualified for a crack at the money after landing the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso.

The County Carlow handler put faith in 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford to do the steering and he showed no pressure as he guided the well-backed 9-4 favourite to victory.

Gainford had The Shunter with the leaders throughout before he went for glory at the second-last fence. He kept on strongly up the hill to win by three lengths from Farclas. Top Notch was three and a quarter lengths back in third, with Coole Cody a head away in fourth.

Gainford said: “It’s unbelievable, something you can’t describe and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before.

“Emmet said to jump off smart and if they weren’t going hard enough to be positive but we shouldn’t have that problem.

“He thought the step up in trip would suit. He tends to do his own little thing so going to the last I let him pop then he battled hard from the last.

“I spoke to Davy Russell through the week and he filled me with confidence and I must thank Barry O’Neill (champion amateur jockey) and Colin Bowe (leading point-to-point trainer).

“I didn’t know I’d got the ride until declaration time so I owe my agent Gary Cribbin a lot. I’m 20 and ride for Colin three days a week and at Cullentra House three times a week.”

Mullins said: “It is probably no great reflection on me, but at the time I thought he had to go for a beginners’ chase at Punchestown in September. To go from there, via the Greatwood and Kelso, it’s been an unbelievable journey.

“We booked Jordan because he’s catching everyone’s attention, the owner was fairly insistent on claiming 7lb and at that Jordan was the only option. He showed why today.

“We went to Kelso as I thought it would be easier on the horse than the County Hurdle here, and Kelso was a huge pot in its own right.

“We got that one right and it’s just fallen into place since. You wouldn’t know how far he could go, what we see on the track is as wise as I can be, he doesn’t set the world alight at home but we don’t ask him to do much, the less the better.

“I wouldn’t know what’s next, we haven’t thought beyond this, but I’m sure his owner will pull another rabbit out of the hat.”

Mrs Milner was another for Ireland in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

The six-year-old, trained in County Wexford by Paul Nolan, asserted on the run to the line to land the three-mile stamina test in comfortable fashion.

Redford Road and Potters Hedger were the pace-setters and there were plenty in with chances as the big field approached the penultimate flight.

Mrs Milner was produced through the pack to lead before the last. Despite the attentions of a loose horse, the 12-1 chance kept on strongly to win by five lengths from The Bosses Oscar.

Come On Teddy was half a length back in third, with another length and a half to Milliner in fourth.

Nolan said: “That was brilliant – I can’t believe the ease with which she’s done it.

“She got into a bit of bother at a few different stages of the race. It wasn’t Bryan’s fault, it was just the way things panned out. I was saying a few swear words here I can tell you!

“It was unbelievable the way she ran up the hill. I can’t believe it, to be honest.”

He went on: “She is such a tough little mare. After the fall she had in Leopardstown the last day, a lot of horses would have their head down for a week, but she just bounced straight back.

“We ran her over the wrong trip the last day, but we decided to go that way to keep her against the mares. As it’s turned out it’s probably worked out well as she might have ended up with a few more pounds on her back if she’d run in the longer race and run well.”

Nolan, saddling his first Festival winner since Noble Prince landed the inaugural running of what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in 2011, decided against crossing the Irish Sea this year with his solitary runner.

He added: “It’s disappointing not to be there, but it sounds like you can’t do much anyway and we’ll enjoy it the best we can from home.

“We were jumping up and down here watching the race and nearly went through the skylight!

“We’ve had a few placed horses and things since Noble Prince won. We’re lucky to have some very good owners, who are keeping us afloat.”

The Shunter bags £100,000 bonus with Cheltenham strike

The Shunter won a £100,000 bonus for his connections when beating 20 rivals in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Emmet Mullins-trained eight-year-old scooped the windfall with a convincing display in the competitive two-and-a-half-mile affair.

Mullins selected this race from five engagements for The Shunter, who qualified for a crack at the money after landing the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso.

The County Carlow handler put faith in 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford to do the steering and he showed no pressure as he guided the well-backed 9-4 favourite to victory.

Gainford had The Shunter with the leaders throughout before he went for glory at the second-last fence. He kept on strongly up the hill to win by three lengths from Farclas. Top Notch was three and a quarter lengths back in third, with Coole Cody a head away in fourth.

Gainford said: “It’s unbelievable, something you can’t describe and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before.

“Emmet said to jump off smart and if they weren’t going hard enough to be positive but we shouldn’t have that problem.

“He thought the step up in trip would suit. He tends to do his own little thing so going to the last I let him pop then he battled hard from the last.

“I spoke to Davy Russell through the week and he filled me with confidence and I must thank Barry O’Neill (champion amateur jockey) and Colin Bowe (leading point-to-point trainer).

“I didn’t know I’d got the ride until declaration time so I owe my agent Gary Cribbin a lot. I’m 20 and ride for Colin three days a week and at Cullentra House three times a week.”

Mullins said: “It is probably no great reflection on me, but at the time I thought he had to go for a beginners’ chase at Punchestown in September. To go from there, via the Greatwood and Kelso, it’s been an unbelievable journey.

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“We booked Jordan because he’s catching everyone’s attention, the owner was fairly insistent on claiming 7lb and at that Jordan was the only option. He showed why today.

“We went to Kelso as I thought it would be easier on the horse than the County Hurdle here, and Kelso was a huge pot in its own right.

“We got that one right and it’s just fallen into place since. You wouldn’t know how far he could go, what we see on the track is as wise as I can be, he doesn’t set the world alight at home but we don’t ask him to do much, the less the better.

“I wouldn’t know what’s next, we haven’t thought beyond this, but I’m sure his owner will pull another rabbit out of the hat.”

Mrs Milner was another for Ireland in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

The six-year-old, trained in County Wexford by Paul Nolan, asserted on the run to the line to land the three-mile stamina test in comfortable fashion.

Redford Road and Potters Hedger were the pace-setters and there were plenty in with chances as the big field approached the penultimate flight.

Mrs Milner was produced through the pack to lead before the last. Despite the attentions of a loose horse, the 12-1 chance kept on strongly to win by five lengths from The Bosses Oscar.

Come On Teddy was half a length back in third, with another length and a half to Milliner in fourth.

Nolan said: “That was brilliant – I can’t believe the ease with which she’s done it.

“She got into a bit of bother at a few different stages of the race. It wasn’t Bryan’s fault, it was just the way things panned out. I was saying a few swear words here I can tell you!

“It was unbelievable the way she ran up the hill. I can’t believe it, to be honest.”

He went on: “She is such a tough little mare. After the fall she had in Leopardstown the last day, a lot of horses would have their head down for a week, but she just bounced straight back.

“We ran her over the wrong trip the last day, but we decided to go that way to keep her against the mares. As it’s turned out it’s probably worked out well as she might have ended up with a few more pounds on her back if she’d run in the longer race and run well.”

Nolan, saddling his first Festival winner since Noble Prince landed the inaugural running of what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in 2011, decided against crossing the Irish Sea this year with his solitary runner.

He added: “It’s disappointing not to be there, but it sounds like you can’t do much anyway and we’ll enjoy it the best we can from home.

“We were jumping up and down here watching the race and nearly went through the skylight!

“We’ve had a few placed horses and things since Noble Prince won. We’re lucky to have some very good owners, who are keeping us afloat.”

Mount Ida – another for Ireland – put up an amazing performance to come from last to first and claim the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

Leading two out in the hands of Jack Kennedy, the 3-1 favourite gradually went clear to give Denise Foster a second Festival winner after taking over the licence at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House Stables.

Mount Ida was almost detached from the rest of the field in the early stages of the three-and-a-quarter-mile stamina test, but she got going on the final circuit.

She made stealthy progress and was cantering turning for home. Kennedy made sure she finished off the job and his mount did it in style to win by six and a half lengths from Cloudy Glen. Shantou Flyer was three-quarters of a length away in third. Hold The Note was a further 13 lengths back in fourth.

Rachael Blackmore came down on Plan Of Attack at the third-last fence when holding every chance.

Kennedy – who suffered heartbreak in the opening race of the day when Envoi Allen fell – said: “I was lucky they were going quick, she was doing her best work at the finish.

“We thought she’d stay, but I’d planned it going a bit smoother in the early part. I just had to make do what I could from there, luckily I had a very willing partner.

“We were hoping she’d run a big race, we thought she might be thereabouts if things went smoothly, but I thought my chances were out of the window after four fences.

“At the top of the hill I was fairly happy and I ended up getting there too soon.

“It was a massive thrill, especially after the day I’d had, probably one of the most satisfactory winners I’ve had.”

Mrs Milner perfect in Pertemps for Nolan and Cooper

Mrs Milner continued the Irish domination at the Cheltenham Festival when winning the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

The six-year-old, trained in County Wexford by Paul Nolan, asserted on the run to the line to land the three-mile stamina test in comfortable fashion.

Redford Road and Potters Hedger were the pace-setters and there were plenty in with chances as the big field approached the penultimate flight.

Mrs Milner was produced through the pack to lead before the last. Despite the attentions of a loose horse, the 12-1 chance kept on strongly to win by five lengths from The Bosses Oscar.

Come On Teddy was half a length back in third, with another length and a half to Milliner in fourth.

Nolan said: “That was brilliant – I can’t believe the ease with which she’s done it.

“She got into a bit of bother at a few different stages of the race. It wasn’t Bryan’s fault, it was just the way things panned out. I was saying a few swear words here I can tell you!

“It was unbelievable the way she ran up the hill. I can’t believe it, to be honest.”

He went on: “She is such a tough little mare. After the fall she had in Leopardstown the last day, a lot of horses would have their head down for a week, but she just bounced straight back.

“We ran her over the wrong trip the last day, but we decided to go that way to keep her against the mares. As it’s turned out it’s probably worked out well as she might have ended up with a few more pounds on her back if she’d run in the longer race and run well.”

Nolan, saddling his first Festival winner since Noble Prince landed the inaugural running of what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in 2011, decided against crossing the Irish Sea this year with his solitary runner.

He added: “It’s disappointing not to be there, but it sounds like you can’t do much anyway and we’ll enjoy it the best we can from home.

“We were jumping up and down here watching the race and nearly went through the skylight!

“We’ve had a few placed horses and things since Noble Prince won. We’re lucky to have some very good owners, who are keeping us afloat.”

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 Baroneracing.com 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.

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“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.”

Monkfish bids for third-round knockout against Latest Exhibition

Monkfish and Latest Exhibition lock horns for a third time in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish defeated Paul Nolan’s stable star Latest Exhibition by a neck when the pair filled the first two places in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.

The pair renewed rivalry in a Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown over Christmas – and on that occasion, Monkfish ran out a more authoritative three-length winner.

They do battle once more on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival, with Mullins not expecting that a drop in trip from three miles to an extended two miles and five furlongs will prove a problem for his charge.

“It was a good tussle with Latest Exhibition at Christmas. They have a little history together, and there’s never much between them,” said the champion trainer.

“The way Monkfish jumps, I don’t think coming back in trip will bother him, and the ground will be more testing as well.

“It’s a Grade One and it’s huge prize money, (so) we have to go there.”

Monkfish is one of three Mullins-trained runners in a nine-strong field on Sunday, with Asterion Forlonge and Janidil also declared.

Asterion Forlonge won a Grade One novice hurdle at this meeting last year, but returns with plenty to prove following successive falls over fences at Limerick and Punchestown, while Janidil failed to run up to expectations in the same Limerick race in late December.

Mullins added: “I’ve wondered about different ways of riding Asterion Forlonge that might negate him going right. There’s an argument to keep him to right-handed tracks – but sometimes if you don’t ask the question, you don’t get the answer either.

Asterion Forlonge has questions to answer in the jumping department
Asterion Forlonge has questions to answer in the jumping department (Niall Carson/PA)

“It is a Grade One, so if you miss it you can’t pick one up the following week. I think he was just going too slow last time at Punchestown.

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“I was disappointed with Janidil in Limerick. I’m not sure the real heavy ground suited him – he might want a nicer surface.”

Nolan is delighted with Latest Exhibition ahead of his latest big-race assignment, saying: “He had a tough race against Monkfish the last day, but we couldn’t be happier with him – he did a piece of work earlier in the week, and we were extremely happy.

“I don’t think the shorter trip will be an inconvenience to him. If he runs as well as he did at Christmas, please God he’ll put it up to everything again.”

Latest Exhibition will clash again with Monkfish
Latest Exhibition will clash again with Monkfish (PA)

Gordon Elliott fires a twin assault, with Andy Dufresne joined by his lesser-fancied stablemate Conflated.

“Andy Dufresne is taking a big step up in class here and he is going to have to be at his very best, but I could see him running a big race,” Elliott told Betfair.

“Conflated struggled behind Monkfish last time and looks to be up against it once more – but I’m not convinced he was at his best that day, and the three-mile trip might have stretched him too.”

Mullins has saddled seven of the last eight winners of the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle – and this year has strong favourite Appreciate It joined by five stable companions.

The market leader was a hugely impressive winner over the course and distance last time, and already heads ante-post lists for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Paul Townend and Appreciate It in full flight
Paul Townend and Appreciate It in full flight (PA)

Reflecting on his Christmas success, Mullins said: “I wasn’t sure whether he could be that good – but he was more than I thought he was, the performance he put in.

“I was thinking about going up in trip at the start of the season. If we’d been going for the two-mile-six race this weekend it wouldn’t have surprised me, which is why I was hugely taken with his last performance.”

Blue Lord, N’golo, Galopin Des Champs, Mr Coldstone and Hook Up complete the Mullins sextet – while Elliott is represented by Ballyadam, Wide Receiver and Magic Tricks.

Ballyadam was rated the biggest threat to Appreciate It in December, having won the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, but was ultimately well beaten in fourth place.

“Ballyadam did not run well here at Christmas time, so he is coming here on a retrieval mission,” said Elliott.

“I’m happy enough to put a line through his run at Christmas, because he never looked happy and didn’t finish out his race at all.

“Hopefully he will do much better here, but I’m under no illusions about the task facing him because this does look like a high-quality edition of this race.”

The first of four Grade Ones on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival is the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, in which Elliott’s Quilixios puts his unbeaten record on the line.

Quilixios is a smart prospect in the Cheveley Park Stud colours
Quilixios is a smart prospect in the Cheveley Park Stud colours (Niall Carson/PA)

“He’s a lovely horse, and I’ve been delighted with what he has shown on his two runs for us this season,” said the Cullentra handler.

“He is taking a major rise in class for this, but we are lucky enough to have some good juveniles in the yard to measure him by, and I think he is up to holding his own at this level.”

Mullins runs three against Quilixios in Ha D’or, Saint Sam and Youmdor, and appears to hold all the aces in the concluding N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race – with five of the 11 runners hailing from Closutton.

The trainer’s son Patrick has sided with Brandy Love over Brooklynn Glory (Barry O’Neill), Purple Mountain (Tom Hamilton), Take Tea (Derek O’Connor) and Grangee (Jody Townend).

Summing up their chances, Mullins senior said: “Brooklynn Glory has won twice and been very good both times; Purple Mountain is good, but I’m worried about the ground for her, and Take Tea was very impressive in Naas – and the second has come out and won since.

“Brandy Love was hugely impressive in Fairyhouse. Grangee probably won’t be suited by the ground, but where else do I go? She’s not the biggest mare – and 11st 7lb in this, rather than 12st 7lb in a mares’ bumper, is much better for her.

“I think Brooklynn, Take Tea and Brandy Love have been hugely impressive, but I’m as inquisitive as everyone to find out which one is best.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a group of mares this strong before.”

The big danger appears to be Hollymount – who makes her first start for Elliott, having recently been snapped up for £300,000.

Elliott said: “Hollymount came to us just last week after being bought from Stuart Crawford’s yard following an impressive bumper win at Carlisle a couple of months ago.

“She is taking a huge rise in class here and she’s a mare we are just getting to know, but I can say that she has settled in well and I could see her showing up well in what looks a top class mares’ bumper.”

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.

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“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.

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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.”

Monkfish and Exhibition clash again in Leopardstown contest

Cheltenham Festival one-two Monkfish and Latest Exhibition renew rivalry in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Tuesday.

The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish got the better of Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition by a neck in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the showpiece meeting in March, with the high-class pair of Fury Road and Thyme Hill close-up in third and fourth.

Monkfish made an impressive start to his career over regulation fences at Fairyhouse last month and he will be a hot favourite to follow up at Grade One level on the fourth and final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “He was the leading staying novice hurdler last year and we think fences have improved him.

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“Latest Exhibition is a very good horse, but we’ll probably be disappointed if Monkfish can’t continue his upward trajectory.”

Latest Exhibition made a successful chasing debut at Punchestown in October, but proved no match for Pencilfulloflead when odds on for a Grade Two contest at the same venue on his latest outing.

The winner did the form no harm when narrowly beaten in a Grade One at Limerick on Saturday, however, and Nolan hopes his stable star will be seen in a better light on the forecast better ground at Leopardstown.

“Hopefully he’ll run well – we couldn’t be happier with him,” said the Enniscorthy-based trainer.

“It will be very hard to beat Willie’s horse. He looks like he’s better over fences than he was over hurdles and he’s already beaten us over hurdles in Cheltenham.

“I don’t want to see a lot more rain, but the ground is not going to be as heavy as it was in Punchestown anyway, so he should be fine.

“The favourite will be hard to beat, but we’re there with a fighting chance. I just hope he jumps well and runs a nice race.”

Gordon Elliott is hopeful Conflated can make his presence felt
Gordon Elliott is hopeful Conflated can make his presence felt (PA)

Gordon Elliott has landed this prize in each of the past three seasons and is this year represented by Conflated.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding was placed behind Darver Star and Asterion Forlonge on his first two chase starts before making it third time lucky with a 17-length verdict at Navan.

Elliott told Betfair: “It’s going to be interesting to see how Conflated gets on over three miles as he has never gone beyond two and a half. To me he shapes like a horse that could improve over further and I’m really looking forward to running him.

“I thought he was very good at Navan last time, when he seemed to enjoy the switch back to a left-handed track. If he turns up here in the same sort of form, I could see him running a big race, although Monkfish is going to be hard to beat.”

Eurobot (Noel Meade), Foxy Jacks (Mouse Morris) and Heaven Help Us (Paul Hennessy) complete the line-up.

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.”