Leading Irish trainer Paul Nolan is looking at alternatives to the Festival Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham festival as Latest Exhibition was beaten for a third straight time by his rival Monkfish at Leopardstown in the Flogas Novice Chase on Sunday.
The gelding went from strength to strength last season over hurdles landing three out of his five contests, seeing off some of the best novices throughout the year including Andy Dufresne, Fury Road and Longhouse Poet.
The only horse to beat him last term came when when he was tried at two miles which showed that he was a stayer and not a pace merchant and he was outclassed by the Gordon Elliott trained Abacadabras who finished a narrow second in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
His win in the Grade One Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing festival saw him tackle his furthest trip over two and three-quarter miles and proved to bring the best out of him.
He was an unlucky runner up on his final start over hurdles when just being pipped on the line in the Grade One Albert Bartlett at the festival by the Willie Mullins trained Monkfish.
Now chasing, the seven year old made a very pleasing debut over course and distance at Punchestown, when jumping to a good standard and landing a Beginners Chase, but was underwhelming on next time out when second to Pencilfulloflead, who did subsequently finish second in a Grade One after that run.
Latest Exhibition got back to somewhere near his best at Leopardstown over Christmas, but again has to settle for second in behind Monkfish.
On Sunday, the pair did battle again and for a third straight time and Monkfish came out on top once again, this time arguably easier than ever.
(Credit ATR) 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.
“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 after his defeat has explained that he is looking at taking his horse down other avenues, with the Marsh Novices' Chase and the National Hunt Chase all in the reckoning for the gelding.
“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.”
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.”