Trainer Gordon Elliott has had his first winner since returning from a six-month ban after Fancy Foundations won the Templehouse Lake Chase at Sligo this afternoon.
Elliott returned to a racecourse for the first time with one runner at Punchestown yesterday but a stronger hand today has seen him enter the winner's enclosure.
Fancy Foundations, ridden by Denis O’Regan, drew clear of Emmet Mullins’ Blackstair Rocco after both jumped the final fence together.
Earlier on the card The Sliding Rock disappointed in the opening race for Elliott at the north-west venue as the 8/13 shot finished third of four, while Silver Star was also an unplaced third and Imperial Sachin’s also missed out when down the field.
O’Regan provided Elliott with the win at the fifth attempt.
The leading handler was suspended 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 stables, Elliott was free to begin making entries again from last week.
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."
Speaking on 2fm's Game On, Davy Russell, who also returns this week after a serious neck injury, said: "His ability to train horses is not in question and he doesn’t have to start at the very bottom where he had done in the past.
"So I’d be quite confident he can get back to the level where he left off. He still has a lot of very good owners with him and a lot of nice horses.
"I'll be treating him the same and a normal human being that understands life in general would treat him the same."
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.