© Photo Healy Racing
Star novice hurdler Latest Exhibition makes his eagerly anticipated debut over fences at Punchestown on Wednesday.
Paul Nolan’s stable star enjoyed a fine campaign over the smaller obstacles last season, claiming the notable scalp of Gordon Elliott’s Andy Dufresne in the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle before striking Grade One gold at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.
He was narrowly denied by the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish in a thrilling climax to the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and makes his first competitive appearance since in the beginners' chase under Bryan Cooper.
Nolan said: “We’ve had some placed horses recently, and you wouldn’t mind getting a winner, but at the same time he seems very well and he’s as fit as we can have him at home.
“He’s going to improve, obviously, which is the same for everyone first time out. We’ve had no interruptions and we need to get started somewhere — Punchestown is a nice, galloping track with nice fences, and we just hope to God he jumps well.
“He seems well, and it’s all about jumping — we’ll find out tomorrow if he’s a chaser or not.”
Latest Exhibition is set to face nine rivals over two and three-quarter miles — including Martin Brassil’s Longhouse Poet, Elliott’s Run Wild Fred and School Boy Hours from Noel Meade’s yard.
The most valuable event on a seven-race card is the 65,000 euro Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final, which was saved and re-scheduled following the abandonment of the Punchestown Festival in the spring due because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Likely contenders include John Queally’s Arcadian Sunrise, Adrian Murray’s course-and-distance winner Gold Speed and the Tom Mullins-trained pair of Barnaviddaun and It Could Be You.
Barnaviddaun finished fourth on his seasonal reappearance at Gowran Park at the start of the month — while It Could Be You was last seen landing a Fairyhouse bumper, having previously finished down the field in two starts over hurdles.
“They’re two similar horses,” said Mullins.
“The fact that It Could Be You won a bumper shows he’s up to to the mark of winning something like this, and he ran a nice race in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown a month ago (finished fifth).
“Barnaviddaun had a lovely run in Gowran in his first handicap, and has been in good form since.
“Both horses jump well, ran well last time out and are very well at the moment, so I’m hoping for very good runs from the two of them.”