Fancy Foundations is comeback winner for Gordon Elliott

Fancy Foundations registered Gordon Elliott’s first win since his return from suspension, with a determined success at Sligo.

The leading Irish trainer was banned for 12 months, with half of that punishment suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media in March.

Elliott was also ordered to pay costs of €15,000 – with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board stating the punishment reflected “the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry” after the image provoked huge public outcry.

After serving a ban of six months, during which time Denise Foster took temporary control of Cullentra House stables, Elliott saddled his first runner since March 8 on Tuesday’s Flat card at Punchestown – where Oh Purple Reign finished well beaten.

The Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning handler was widely expected to get off the mark in the opening race back over the jumps at Sligo on Wednesday, but 8-13 favourite The Sliding Rock made a bad mistake when trying to close in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase and finished third of four runners.

With Silver Star and Imperial Sachin’s also out of luck later on the card, it was left for Elliott’s final runner of the day Fancy Foundations to come up with the goods in the Templehouse Lake Chase – which he ultimately did in battling style.

Faced with just three rivals, the even-money favourite did not always convince in the jumping department, but dug deep for Denis O’Regan after the final fence to get the better of Blackstair Rocco by four lengths.

Elliott said: “We thought we were coming here with two good chances, the mare in the first (The Sliding Rock) and obviously this lad.

Gordon Elliott at Punchestown on Tuesday
Gordon Elliott at Punchestown on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA)

“It was a good performance. He was a bit keen. and it was a tactical race, but Denis gave him a good ride and he jumped well. It’s great for Andrew and Gemma Brown (owners), who are great supporters of the yard.

“He’s not a real winter, heavy-ground horse and he’ll probably go for a novice chase at Cheltenham in October.”

Elliott received warm applause from those around the parade ring.

He added: “It was nice to get that reception from the people here. I’ve missed them for the last six months, as much as they’ve missed me.

John Ryan's Grange Walk won the Frank O'Beirne Memorial Handicap Chase
John Ryan’s Grange Walk won the Frank O’Beirne Memorial Handicap Chase

“It’s brilliant for my staff. They’ve worked hard. Alicia, the girl who led up the horse, is going back to college next week to be a vet, and that was her first time leading up a winner – so it’s great.”

Elsewhere on the card it was a memorable afternoon for trainer John Ryan, who saddled four of the seven winners.

The Templemore-based trainer rattled off a hat-trick in the first three races, with Kitty Galore (7-2), Rippon Lodge (15-2) and Grange Walk (4-1) all striking gold, before completing his four-timer in the finale with 11-2 chance Father Jed.

Ryan enjoyed a treble at the corresponding fixture in 2016 – the only time he has previously saddled three winners at one meeting.

Dreal Deal continues progression with famous success

Dreal Deal continued his remarkable winning sequence as he sprang a shock on his first attempt at Grade Two level with victory in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

Ronan McNally’s six-year-old drifted in the market and was sent off an unconsidered 22-1 shot at Punchestown to post his sixth successive victory, over hurdles and on the Flat.

But after being held up last early on in the two-mile contest, he surged from well off the pace to lead just after the final flight and prevail by a decisive three lengths from the Willie Mullins-trained Ganapathi, under Denis O’Regan.

Gordon Elliott’s 11-4 favourite Magic Tricks came under pressure leaving the back straight and was eventually last of six finishers.

Dreal Deal’s progress through the ranks has been astounding this season.

The former maiden point-to-pointer began it as an apparently exposed performer, without a victory in 11 attempts under both codes, yet is since unbeaten – having broken his duck over hurdles from a handicap rating of 84 at Navan in September and won here at level weights from a field full of the big yards’ most promising novices.

McNally now has his sights on Cheltenham and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

He said: “He won’t be going to the Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown and will probably go to Cheltenham now. I think he’s entitled to go there now.

Dreal Deal and Denis O’Regan (centre) on their way to victory
Dreal Deal and Denis O’Regan (centre) on their way to victory (PA)

“If we have to go for a lesser race in between, we will do that, and if not it will be straight to Cheltenham.

“He will probably go for the Supreme, but he will be entered in the Ballymore as well. That was the dream, but he had to go and do that today.

“He’s done it now – so we can dream!”

The victory was made all the more remarkable because Armagh-based McNally revealed the build-up had been far from ideal.

He said: “We had a poor preparation, because he got a stone bruise during the week and that’s why he didn’t go to Fairyhouse (on Tuesday).

“All my horses were a wee bit off around Christmas, so they got a week off – and then with the frost, they missed work as well, so to be honest he’d done no galloping.

“Also his coat wasn’t great the last couple of weeks, and he hasn’t eaten as well he could. Nothing really was clicking, but we needed to get a run into him, and I knew anything he did today that he’d go forward from it.”

O’Regan added: “He can travel real well, but it just takes him a while to get going – and thankfully he got going in the straight. He’d a good jump at the last and won all right in the end.

“He’s definitely entitled to step up into higher company again, and it’s something to look forward to. Well done to Ronan and the team.”

On a day that did not go quite as he would have hoped, with defeat for Ganapathi and the first-fence exit of Asterion Forlonge in his clash with Envoi Alle, Mullins did at least leave with a double.

Frere Tuck (11-4) was the first Closutton winner, in the Punchestown Maiden Hurdle, after which Mullins said: “He choked the last day, and the tongue tie made a big difference to him today.

“Better ground would suit him well as he progresses through his career, and he’d have no problem going back up in trip.”

Klassy Kay could be one to note at the big meetings in the spring
Klassy Kay could be one to note at the big meetings in the spring (PA)

Brian Hayes did the steering on Frere Tuck in the absence of Paul Townend, with Rachael Blackmore aboard Klassy Kay (13-8) in the Punchestown Onwards and Upwards Mares Handicap Hurdle.

Mullins said: “The form of her third at Clonmel the last day has worked out well.

“Going up in trip is suiting her as well, and she’ll have to go up a bit in grade now.

“I think as we go into the spring, drier ground will suit her – and she might be able to win a nice handicap at one of the spring festivals.”