Horses To Follow » Western Leader

Western Leader

Western Leader put up a fine performance to land the opener at Leopardstown on Tuesday, the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle. Sent to the front from flagfall by Conor O’Farrell, the Shark Hanlon-trained gelding’s jumping was accurate in the main and he travelled well, if anything a little too keenly, through the early stages. A length and a half in front jumping the second last, he pinged that flight as his closest pursuer Rick clipped the top of it, and set sail for home around the home turn, opening up impressively to quickly put four lengths between himself and his field. Acapulco had to go race wide around the home turn in order to get into a position to mount a challenge, and he and Rick did close up a little on the leader on the approach to the last. A slightly awkward jump from Wester Leader at the last gave his pursuers a chance, and Acapulco did run on well all the way to the line, but Western Leader stuck his neck out admirably and willingly under an all-out drive to repel his challenger and just get home by a short head.

This was a decent race. It run at a decent pace, the ‘right’ horses filled the places, the first three pulled 12 lengths clear of their rivals and they clocked a good time, over six seconds faster than the time that it took Voler La Vedette to complete the same course and distance a half an hour later. The ground on the day did get progressively worse as the weather deteriorated, but they went a fair gallop in the early stages of the mares’ race, and the winner, who is as short as 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle, wasn’t allowed that easy a time of it, so it was a big performance by Western Leader and Acapulco to go more than six seconds faster. Initial instinct is to take the runner-up out of the race. Edward O’Grady’s gelding was conceding the rider’s 5lb allowance to the winner, he was closing all the way to the line, and he had to have lost at least the margin by which he was beaten in being forced to race wide around the home turn. A maiden winner over 10 furlongs, second in a listed race and ninth in Authorized’s Derby when with Aidan O’Brien, it can’t be long before the son of Galileo gets off the mark over hurdles, he has finished second on all three of his starts over timber, but it is possible that Western Leader has more scope for progression at this stage. Winner of two of his six bumpers and second in three of them, Barry Connell’s gelding shaped with a deal of promise on his hurdling bow at Gowran Park last month when he finished third behind his stable companion Luska Lad over an inadequate two miles. He appreciated the step up to two and a half here, and his rider was obviously intent on making it a true test over the distance, which made a lot of sense, given that he also made all to win his two bumpers, one of them over two miles and three furlongs on heavy ground. The trainer said afterwards that he would look for a novices’ race now over two and a half miles. He handles soft ground well and he will be of interest wherever he goes next.

29th December 2009

© The Irish Field, 2nd January 2010