BUTTEVANT jockey Shane Fitzgerald rode his first Cheltenham winner aboard Commander Of Fleet in the Coral Cup for Gordon Elliot after high drama on day two the festival.
In an epic finish at Prestbury Park, he held off his north Cork neighbour Darragh O’Keefe, from Doneraile, aboard Fastorslow by the mimimum distance which was a short head.
Meanwhile, Energumene and Lisgoold's Paul Townend claimed a dramatic victory in the Champion Chase.
Townend had earlier steered Sir Gerhard to victory in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle as the Mullins juggernaut began to roll with a treble on the day after Facile Vega won the Bumper.
The Champion Chase also provided plenty of drama when Shiskin was pulled up and Chaqun Pour Soi took a crashing fall. Paul Townend was always in control of the race and Energumene powered up the Cheltenham hill to provide Willie Mullins with his first Champion Chase.
Townend said: “I was on a very good horse and you can make it look easy then. He’d won on very heavy ground in Ireland so that wasn’t going to worry us. It didn’t work in Ascot and the tactics kind of went out the window early on as well, he was enjoying himself. I let him jump up there and just kept holding on to him.”
In the opening race Sir Gerhard and Townend powered through the soft ground to justify favouritism in the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on day 2 at Cheltenham. The 8-11 favourite, trained by Willie Mullins, followed up his Grade One success over two miles at Leopardstown with another — handling the step up to two miles and five furlongs with aplomb.
Townend swept to the front and held off the staying- on Three Stripe Life under Davy Russell to score by three and a half lengths.
Townend said: “He showed his class, as keen as he was, to stay going. I was afraid going around that we were in the wrong race, but he showed his true ability to stay going. He jumped the best he has ever jumped on the course. His jumping the last day wasn’t great, but he jumped well there. It’s great to be among the winners anyway.”
Tiger Roll and Davy Russell were denied a fairy tale finish to his racing career when his stablemate Delta Work just finished stronger in a driving finish.
An emotional Russell said: “The Tiger ran his heart out and we just could not shake off Delta Work. He went down fighting, and I am very proud of the horse. We have won two Grand Nationals together and he really has been the horse of a lifetime. Obviously, I would have loved to have won in his final race, but it wasn’t to be."