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Paul Nolan

It didn’t look good for Latest Exhibition when he made that mistake.  The first flight down the back straight in the Navan Novice Hurdle, he wasn’t meeting it on a stride.  He was a little long, a little short.  He tried to put in a quick stride before the flight, but he hit the top of it, stumbled on landing and struggled to recover his hind legs.  In an instant, he went from a length behind the leader Andy Dufresne and travelling, to three lengths behind Andy Dufresne and struggling, and he lost all the energy that goes with a loss of momentum.  It should have been a race-losing error.

“Going to the end of the back straight,” recalls his trainer Paul Nolan, “I thought that he was going to finish last of the four runners.” 

Sure enough, as they raced around the home turn, of the four jockeys, it was Bryan Cooper who was most animated.  But when the rider gave his horse a squeeze, Latest Exhibition responded, and he moved up on the outside of favourite Andy Dufresne.  The favourite was still travelling better as they straightened up for the second last flight, but the further they went, the stronger Latest Exhibition got.  The two novices jumped the second last flight in unison, but Paul Nolan’s horse was about a neck up by the time they jumped the last, and he stayed on strongly up the hill to win well.

“It was great to win it,” says Nolan.  “To win a good race like that, a Grade 2 race, and to win it like he did, especially after making that mistake.  Bryan was very good on him too, he was positive on him at the next flight, he saw a stride and asked him, and that got him back into the race.  It was Jim who wanted to run in that race, to go back to Navan, take on Andy Dufresne.”

Jim is Jim Mernagh, owner of Latest Exhibition, breeder of Latest Exhibition.  You know the colours, purple with a gold hoop, the colours that Alpha Ridge wore when he won the Galmoy Hurdle in 2009, the ones that Deep Bramble wore when he won the Ericsson Chase in 1993, before he was sold to Paul Barber and joined Paul Nicholls. Some of Latest Exhibition has been sold too in the interim, but Jim Mernagh has retained a quarter share, and the horse obviously stays with Paul Nolan.

Paul Nolan and Jim Mernagh go way back.  Nolan trained Alpha Ridge to win that Galmoy Hurdle in 2009, and to finish second in the Drinmore Chase the following season.  He also trained Latest Exhibition’s dam, Aura About You. 

“Aura About You didn’t look like anything special at home, but she was a different mare when she got to the racetrack.  She was a 25/1 shot when she won her maiden hurdle, she surprised us.”

She was also a big price for the Mares’ Hurdle at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, when she ran out of her skin to finish third behind Quevega, only just beaten by United for second.  Sadly, injury cut her racing career short, but she has obviously bred a good one in Latest Exhibition, her first foal, and Mernagh has a few siblings at home.

Latest Exhibition could have been sold before he got to Paul Nolan’s.  He was there, at the 2016 Derby Sale at Tattersalls Ireland in Fairyhouse, when he developed stringhalt and was withdrawn from the sale. 

“It doesn’t affect him when he is running or racing at all,” says his trainer.  “It generally doesn’t.  Some top class horses have had stringhalt.  We were delighted to get this fellow, and we thought that he was good from early.  He was workmanlike at home, but when we got him away on grass, he was very good.  It’s good to have a good horse.”

Paul Nolan has had lots of good horses.  Grade 1 horses.  Defy Logic and Joncol and Accordion Etoile and Kill Devil Hill.  And Galway Hurdle winners Say Again and Cloone River.  For now, there is no knowing how good this one could be.

Second in a bumper at Limerick’s Christmas festival last season on his racecourse debut, a race in which he had subsequent Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle winner Fiddlerontheroof back in third, Latest Exhibition won his bumper at Naas the following month, and he won his maiden hurdle at his first attempt at Galway in October. 

He was beaten by Abacadabras in the Grade 3 For Auction Hurdle at Navan in November, but Abacadabras is very good and, over that two-mile trip off a relatively sedate gallop, Gordon Elliott’s horse beat him for pace.  Stepped up to two and a half miles last time, different story.

Latest Exhibition will step up in trip again next Saturday, to two miles and six furlongs, for the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy and Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival.  

“He has been very good since Navan thankfully,” says Nolan.  “He came out of the race very well.  Saturday’s race looks like a very warm race, but we’re hopeful.” 

© The Sunday Times, 26th January 2020