Paddy Power Column: Western Leader primed for first win over fences

NOT long until Cheltenham now and I think we saw a couple of live Festival contenders in Overturn and The New One during the last week.

NOT long until Cheltenham now and I think we saw a couple of live Festival contenders in Overturn and The New One during the last week.

The former is now two from two over the bigger obstacles but what I really liked about his victory at Doncaster was the way that he jumped. I wasn’t alone as not many horses get the words ‘jumped brilliantly when asked’ from the race readers assigned to each contest.

He looks a genuine Arkle contender who could give current favourite Simonsig something to think about, although my only current reservation is I don’t think he beat a lot at Donny and his last run before Cheltenham will tell us a lot more.

That last sentiment also applies to The New One who hacked up in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Warwick on Saturday and will be back in action at Cheltenham in two weeks’ time.

His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is one of the nicest men I’ve met in the sport and his charge could well win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, but with his son and jockey Sam saying after the Warwick heat ‘the sky is the limit’, he could well be a future Gold Cup prospect in two years’

Turning to this week’s racing, I’m hoping that the snow which has hit parts of England doesn’t arrive in Ireland and that Mags Mullins allows Oscars Joy to take her chance in Sunday’s Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

I was really impressed by the manner of this one’s victory at the same track last month, when after leading two out she was joined at the head of affairs, but not for long and she again established her supremacy before the last before staying on well to master Caoimhe’s Delight by a length and a half.

For my money this was a very tough performance in which she showed a hell of a lot of character on heavy ground and while she has won on good ground, if there is a cut she will take a bit of beating.

Thurles hosts a nice card on Thursday and I’m looking forward to seeing Western Leader have his second appearance over fences for old friend of this column Shark Hanlon in the W.T. O’Grady Memorial EBF Novice Chase.

The Stowaway gelding was not far off top-class over hurdles, finishing runner-up in a Grade 1 at Aintree, and made a winning chasing debut at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day. It wasn’t all positives from Fairyhouse as he was far from fluent at the seventh obstacle, but by and large it was a very satisfying introduction and he can only improve.

Shark reports his charge has been doing everything right at home since then and did a nice bit of work on Monday morning. He said: “I don’t know if he’ll ever come back to his Aintree form and while this looks a good race, he’s a good horse and entitled to run.”

Looking at the footy, readers might be surprised I’m not tipping Norwich for once but instead I’m opting for Chelsea to beat Arsenal at home on Sunday at odds of 5-6.

I was very underwhelmed with Arsenal’s performance against Manchester City on Sunday even though they played most of the game with 10 men after Koscielny thought he was appearing in the World Wrestling Federation rather than the Premier League and hauled Dzeko to the ground.

Aside from this Arsenal seemed to lack the fight required taking on the current champions, while Chelsea were far too good for Stoke and Frank Lampard again showed why the apparent decision to let him go at the end of the season looks barmy.

Selection

Thursday - Thurles 3.45pm Western Leader; Sunday - Stamford Bridge 1.30pm Chelsea to beat Arsenal; Sunday - Fairyhouse 1.35pm Oscars Joy