It takes a brave man to make the decision to miss out on the Cheltenham Festival – and Paul Nolan is hoping his bold call firmly comes up trumps in Monday’s Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, writes Adam Le Roux.
The Wexford-based trainer decided against taking hotly-tipped Latest Exhibition to the Cotswolds this year, having missed out in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 12 months earlier to Monkfish.
Willie Mullins’ prized asset has been a familiar foe for the colt of late, having also edged him out in Leopardstown in both December and February – with the latter seeing Paul Townend soar to an 11-length victory.
And on Easter Weekend, Nolan has put all his eggs in the Irish National basket, with his eight-year-old a 9-2 favourite under Bryan Cooper ahead of Monday’s main event.
“I just hope we have made the right decision in missing Cheltenham,” Nolan told Racing TV.
“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.”
Having run just four times over fences before, Latest Exhibition is one of the most inexperienced horses in the field, but his Grade 1 performances have left little to the imagination heading into the weekend.
But with 29 runners in the race, Nolan will be keeping a beady eye on his steed, who has only competed against more than ten horses on three other occasions - one being at Prestbury Park in 2020.
“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,” Nolan said.
“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.
There are a number of competitive runners who will be trying to take victory in the Fairyhouse showdown, with Run Wild Fred a keen contender under Jack Kennedy, while Willie Mullins’ Agusta Gold looks a fine prospect at 9-1.
Rachael Blackmore will be on Robin De Carlow for the prized event on Monday evening, as one of a number of horses priced at 14-1, which also includes JP O’Brien’s Sempo under Donagh Meyler.
And despite the hotly-contested field, Nolan believes his star will be among the front runners around the three miles and five furlongs – provided his jumping is up to scratch.
“We couldn’t be happier with the horse,” he said, "We’re just hoping we get a bit of luck in running and he comes home safe.
“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.”