Hanlon draws up Western plan after defying all the odds
John 'Shark' Hanlon has revealed that Western Leader's next outing will be at Thurles later this month after the once-promising nine-year-old sealed his remarkable comeback with a popular triumph at Fairyhouse on Tuesday.
Initially declared as being retired after breaking down badly when finishing second in the Grade One Sefton Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Grand National meeting in 2010, Western Leader defied expert veterinary advice – that included he be put down – to make an unexpected return to the racecourse at Punchestown on the last day of 2011.
His second to Mikael D'Haguenet there offered the first sign that the persistence and patience of Hanlon and the horse's owner Barry Connell might be rewarded.
It took until the first day of 2013 and half a dozen more outings for that faith to be fully rewarded, but victory was nonetheless sweet.
"Like Barry said to me after the race, if he doesn't win again, it doesn't matter," Hanlon confided yesterday. "We've done what we wanted with him. We've had a lot of texts and emails about him the last couple of days and people really appreciate the horse, which is great.
"He has come out of the race super, there's not a bother on him. (The experts) thought he was a goner after Aintree, so to come back and win a race is brilliant."
Western Leader's triumph under Andrew McNamara on Tuesday came on his fencing debut. He will never fulfil the possibilities of his youth now, but such an accomplished performance, which saw him make much of the running before knuckling down to grind out a decisive verdict, was a fine start to his chasing career.
"The plan is to go for a winners' race at Thurles on January 17," Hanlon added, before bemoaning a lack of opportunities for successful novices with limited potential.
"The problem for a horse like him is there are so few opportunities in Ireland. There is the Thurles race and that's the only winners' race for three months."
The Carlow handler also revealed that an innocuous slip during the pre-race parade for Friday's Lexus Chase may have contributed to Hidden Cyclone folding tamely after running keenly early on. Hidden Cyclone's next target remains unconfirmed, as does Bog Warrior's following his stylish Punchestown hurdling defeat of Solwhit.
Tony Martin said of his Gigginstown Stud-owned Grade One-winning chaser: "He's come out of the race in good form, but we've not decided whether we'll stick to hurdles or go back over fences. There are no plans."
Following a double for Tyrone-based James Lambe at Ayr on Wednesday, there was further joy for northern operators at the Scottish venue yesterday. Backed from 12/1 into an SP of 10/1, Fine Rightly took the closing bumper for Larne's Stuart Crawford under the trainer's brother Stephen.
Paul Carberry, meanwhile, is reported to have been booked to ride Cheltenham November meeting winner Monbeg Dude for Michael Scudamore in tomorrow's Welsh National at Chepstow.