‘Can you call back in ten minutes?” Paul Nolan and his staff are finishing off some maintenance work on his six-furlong wood-chip gallop. He also has a three-furlong circular sand gallop and January’s jet-propelled deluge of rain has played havoc with the facilities.
he boss of Toberona Stables has always been hands on, as seen on social media recently, when he only took time out from painting to break into a stirring rendition of Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, using the handle of his brush as a surrogate mic.
Having a laugh, at his own expense and that of others, has been part of the make-up too, but the record cites beyond argument that the Wexford trainer and his brother, James, know what to do with potential.
You don’t build the type of CV they boast by avoiding the big guns and so Latest Exhibition, who provided Nolan with his ninth Grade 1 triumph at the Dublin Racing Festival 12 months ago, returns to Leopardstown today for this year’s meeting, to take on his nemesis, Monkfish, in the Flogas Novice Chase.
Nolan thought so much of Latest Exhibition that when loyal owner-breeder Jim Mernagh was being bombarded with big-money offers he would have to accept, he persuaded three of his long-term owners – John Brennan, Colm Browne and Jim Coffey – to invest and form the Toberona Partnership, with Mernagh retaining a share, to keep the son of Oscar in the yard.
It was an arrangement that suited all parties, and Latest Exhibition has proven himself an elite performer at the highest level. However, he found Monkfish a neck too resolute in the dramatic Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, and was “staring at his backside” at the remove of three lengths in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
It took a fortnight to recover from those exertions but Nolan confirms his stable star to be fresh and in form now, so swerving a renewal of acquaintances with Monkfish was never in consideration.
“What’s the point?” he asks, rhetorically. “At the end of the day, you put all your eggs in the basket and say you’re not running and are going to Cheltenham with a fresh horse, and then all of a sudden something queer happens and there’s no Cheltenham or something like that. So, with the Leopardstown Festival what it is now, with the prize money that’s on offer – and it’s not even the prize money. It just makes sense to run.”
Nolan doesn’t make any excuses for his charge’s losses to Monkfish, believing that Latest Exhibition had the run of the race compared to his rival at Cheltenham, and that the Willie Mullins-trained gelding has improved for being a better jumper of fences than he ever was of hurdles. There are reasons to think Latest Exhibition can step up from what was a fantastic duel between the pair last time out, however.
“The more rain that falls, it lessens our chances but at the same time, he’s a consistent oul’ divil. He’s never been out of the first two in his life. There’s not many miles on his clock for his age and that’s not through any problems, it’s just his physique when he was young. Mind-wise, I’m hoping to God he’ll learn a lot from the last day but it’s going to take an awful lot to beat Willie’s horse.”
His learning curve should extend to jumping fences, given he did not come through the type of early education Monkfish had with Cormac Doyle in that regard.
“There’s no doubt he wouldn’t have had near the depth of schooling that the point-to-point horses would have because he was never a horse that was for sale. He only went away once or twice to school over different fences we have here before he ran in his beginners’ chase. He’s learning his trade jumping-wise. We have an indoor school but you can’t beat competitive racing when you’re going at that pace. When they turned into the straight the last day at Leopardstown and both horses kicked into the second last and last, they were going into that last fence at a fair pace. Touch wood, all that bodes well.”
It will be ground rather than opposition that will determine whether Latest Exhibition is saddled for the Marsh Chase over 2m 5f, or the three-mile Festival Chase.
“If the ground came up soft to heavy in Cheltenham, which is highly possible, you’d nearly go back to the Marsh. And that’s the brilliance of the owners we have. They’ve said, ‘Do what suits the horse, not what suits other horses’. So there’s no point me saying I’m not going to run in that because Envoi Allen is in it, or I’m not going to run in (the Festival Chase) because Monkfish is in it. I’m going to run in the race that suits our horse and let them worry about their own horse.”
Listen to him lavish praise on Envoi Allen though, and it is obvious he would prefer some drying over the coming months and to take his chances with Monkfish once more.
“I think Envoi Allen is the most perfect individual as regards every aspect – his manner, his looks and the way he’s performing. I think he’s the best I’ve ever seen. He seems to be the most complete picture that I’ve ever seen. The last day there, there was suicide bombers, kamikazes flying around him, three or four (loose horses) running around and he still stayed straight as a die. It was like a hive of bees around him and he never flicked his ear.”
That is for the future though. Today is an immediate opportunity and the lorry will have more than Latest Exhibition putting their best foot forward. Fitzhenry has not won in two years but such has been his consistency and honesty, that he togs out for today’s Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase, in which he was collared in the shadow of the post 12 months ago by Roaring Bull, with a 16lbs higher rating than the day he prevailed in Naas. He is reliable but susceptible to improvers.
Tucanae and Mrs Milner are expected to make a bold bid for a chunk of the €100,000 on offer in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.
“I was fierce disappointed in Tucanae in Clonmel and I think she’s better than that. She clipped heels going to the first in Limerick and had an awful fall. She just got very upset in Clonmel and I’m hoping that was the cause of it, and I’m hoping that won’t raise its head again. I like the mare.
“Mrs Milner was fourth in the Pertemps Qualifier and she was second in Cheltenham, but she got seven pounds for being second in Cheltenham, which is not ideal because it’s a winner’s penalty for finishing second. We’re dropping her back in trip to 2m 2f. She’s a consistent mare and she definitely has a chance.”
Sunday Indo Sport