Discorama just might get Nolan back in the spotlight
He has seen too much to be comfortable with talk of a renaissance, but Paul Nolan is looking forward to having a Grade One runner again.
Discorama takes his chance in a white-hot renewal of the Baroneracing.com Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse this afternoon, needing to produce a whole new level of form to win.
But given the five-year-old's rawness as a chaser, showing that he would not be out of place in elite class would be more than enough for his trainer.
There was a time when Nolan dined regularly at the top table. Joncol, Dabiroun, Accordion Etoile, Cloone River, Cuan Na Grai, Noble Prince and Shinrock Paddy yielded many of the top prizes in National Hunt racing, multiple Grade One and Cheltenham pots among them.
Defy Logic was the last high-class resident of Toberona Stables, which is situated in Davidstown, just outside Enniscorthy, but the JP McManus-owned gelding suffered a fatal injury on the gallops.
It was devastating for Nolan and his brother James, who shares training duties, proving symptomatic of a wane in fortunes that hit a nadir of just five winners for the 2015/'16 season.
This from a high of 38 from a campaign that incidentally yielded the Drinmore Chase via Kill Devil Hill 13 years ago, and a regular return in the 30s throughout the noughties.
It said a lot that 13 winners last season was an improvement and to be on 11 already, just entering the latter half of the current term, confirms the positive trend. Nolan isn't losing the run of himself though.
"There's no point being in a Grade One if you're not going to run well or be competitive in it. He deserves to take his chance but I'm not going to say I'm back in the big time. You're not back in the big time unless you win it and even then if you do, you're not.
"You need numbers. I'll be going up there with two runners for the two days. There's other lads going up with 10 runners each day, and if they have one winner, they're coming home happy.
"But listen, it's good to have them. For a good few years, we hadn't got anything that would be hardly competitive in a maiden hurdle or a bumper. You were surviving on an odd summer race and an odd handicap."
The recession filleted many yards and put plenty of trainers out of business. The Nolans weren't immune but didn't want to do anything else, so they dug a trench and found a way to keep the show on the road. And it was the support of a core of faithful patrons that ensured they did.
"It's not that we have extra owners. It's lads that stayed loyal. When the downturn came, there were an awful lot of syndicates in the yard that went. Then two out of 10 would pay you and the other eight wouldn't. You'd no comeback on it, they just vanished. There was woeful bills and lads just walked.
"Then other young lads would start off and get going. We were there and then we weren't there and we were happy enough to still make a living out of it. You could change and go pre-training, or hand in your licence and go the point-to-point game. We chose not to do that and we're still sticking it out. I wouldn't say we're back but we're making an effort.
"You love training so much. There's nothing like the buzz of training a winner. It's an addiction. Because there's no point thinking you're going to start buying yachts from what you make out of it. You're trying to keep your own house from sinking, not to mind getting on a boat!"
They have 35 horses riding out now in the mornings, the majority of them younger types that will be handled patiently.
Fitzhenry is one of the chief contenders for the Baroneracing.com Porterstown Handicap Chase, also today, but it is Discorama which has the loftiest target. That the son of Saddle Maker is still with the Nolans suggests that maybe Lady Luck has begun fluttering her eyelids in their direction once more because the intention had been to move him on at a profit, which is how they paid the bills in recent years.
He wasn't accepted for the Land Rover Sale however so they had no option but to keep him. Thomas Friel and Andrew Gemmell bought him to race and here they are.
Nolan is realistic about Discorama's prospects but admits to having been surprised by his charge's eye-catching win on debut over fences at Naas three weeks ago, believing the trip and ground at Fairyhouse today to be more suitable.
Ironically, however, the fact that he was "faultless" with his jumping leaves a question mark around how he will deal mentally with making a mistake, particularly in a race of this level.
"Normally if you make a mistake in a Grade One, at the pace they go and on ground like that, bar it's the last and you've a bit of horse left, it's very hard to recover. It's normally curtains as regards your chances.
"Experience-wise, he hasn't point-to-pointed even, it's his second start over fences and we could only get a certain amount of schooling into him because the ground was so hard. In fairness to the horse, it's a big step to go form your beginners' chase into Grade One company."
"Hopefully he'll kick on from the last day. It's not all about this race but it would be fantastic if he'd run well."
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here
Sunday Indo Sport