Paul Nolan admitted to mixed emotions as Latest Exhibition chased home Monkfish at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish beat Nolan’s stable star by a neck when they finished first and second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
Both horses then won on their respective chase debuts, but Latest Exhibition was subsequently beaten in a Grade Two at Leopardstown.
The pair renewed rivalry in Tuesday’s Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase on the fourth and final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival – and while Monkfish ultimately won decisively, Nolan believes there is more to come from his lightly-raced gelding.
He said: “In one way you’re delighted because he ran so well, but it’s also a little bit deflating when you’ve run such a good race and you’re still beaten.
“He was obviously beaten by a very good horse. Bryan (Cooper) said he’s going to learn an awful lot from it because (unlike the winner) our guy hadn’t got the point-to-point experience and wouldn’t have been schooled in the manner of point-to-point horses as a youngster.
“He quickened the whole way up the straight and on the day he just wasn’t good enough, but Bryan wasn’t over hard on him in the last 100 metres when he accepted defeat.
“He was a late developing horse, and I think he’s starting to look a bit better in himself, so we’ll try our best to keep him in one piece and hope there’s more improvement in him.
“As I say, he was beaten by a very good horse, but I still think we’ve got a very good horse ourselves.”
Mullins confirmed the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown in early February as the likely next target for Monkfish – and Nolan is in no rush to decide whether to let Latest Exhibition take him on once more before a return to Prestbury Park in March.
“We’ll have a little chat with the lads (owners) and see what our options are,” the trainer added.
“It would be a fair battle to try and beat Monkfish again, with Cheltenham in mind, but we’ll certainly enter him and see what we think is the best thing to do.
“He’ll be entered in all the novice chases in Cheltenham bar the Arkle. You’ve got the RSA and the Marsh Novices’ Chase – and the National Hunt Chase is an option, too.
“We won’t rule out anything yet.”