| 5.8°C Dublin

Hanlon hails fine progress of Leader

Western Leader continued his rise through the ranks with a hugely impressive success in the Grade Two Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle at Thurles.

The 4/1 chance was sent straight to the head of affairs by Conor O'Farrell and had many of his rivals in trouble as the pace increased heading down the back straight.

Premier Victory was his nearest pursuer turning for home but Western Leader soon engaged overdrive and after safely negotiating the final flight, John Hanlon's charge was ridden out to score by 12 lengths.

Hanlon clearly rates the winner highly.

He said: "That's three Grade Twos now in six weeks (two for Luska Lad) so we're not going too bad.

"He was very good there and he'll probably now go to Aintree for the two-and-a-half or three-miler.

"He'd stay forever. He'd handle better ground too and I always thought he was better than Luska Lad. He'll go chasing next season.

"Conor said when he came in that we didn't see how good he was yet and he is right."

Natal returns to action following a midwinter break in the Newlands Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

The eight-year-old was put away for the worst of the weather after finishing sixth in the Jnwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in early November.

"He seems well after he came back from his break. We gave him a break after the big race at Down Royal," said Co Tyrone trainer Jimmy Lambe.

"He seems well in himself and in good order.

"This is a nice race for him to start back and get his spring summer campaign going.

"After Sunday he'll probably go for the Dan Moore Chase at Fairyhouse in April.

"We've got as much work into him as we can do. He's the kind of horse you don't want to work him much as he's a better horse fresh.

"You're always far better having a little bit to work on than sending him to the races fully wound up.

"He always seems a better horse slightly under-done."

Charlie Swan does not want the ground too testing for Oodachee and Offshore Account in the Carrickmines Handicap Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

The Co Tipperary trainer will wait close to final declaration time tomorrow before deciding whether to run the two horses, who hold entries in the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree in April.

"I am going to see what the ground is like and make up my mind," said Swan.

"They don't want it too soft, but they're in good form and I'm very happy with the both of them.

"They're in the National but if they don't get in that they will still go to Aintree for the Topham."