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.
“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.
“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.