Western Leader and Andrew McNamara
©Healy Racing Photos
By Gary Carson
Western Leader made a successful debut over fences with a hard fought victory in the beginners chase at Fairyhouse.
Shark Hanlon's charge prevailed in a tactical affair, getting the better of Rupert Lamb by two-and-a-quarter lengths.
Andrew McNamara bounced his mount out in front but he jumped better with a lead and 11/8 favourite Golanbrook was allowed to take it up out the back.
The pair fought it out from the second last but Rupert Lamb, who had sat off them in third, closed at the final fence to join the party.
7/2 shotWestern Leader proved best on the run-in and asserted in the closing stages to make a winning start over fences.
The winner had suffered a life-threatening tendon injury at Aintree in April 2010 and Hanlon revealed they have had to take it easy with the gelding since.
“He's always been a good horse but we had to take our time with him after coming back. We've always wanted to go chasing with him but had to give him a bit of time with his leg.
“I'd say he might be better right handed as well. A lot of people, if they had got their way at Aintree, would have put him down but to be fair to Barry (Connell) he wouldn't let them.
“We minded him at home and if he hadn't come back he would have been a pet.
“We'll give him a bit of time and he could come back here for the festival. It's one day at a time with him but it's a great way to start the new year.
“Andrew gave him a great ride. He let the other lad take it up and gave him a break. He's a horse that we can't do a lot with at home and he does a lot of his work on the track.”