McNamara and Tranquil Sea drive on up the hill for a valuable victory
Tranquil Sea became the first Irish-trained horse to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup for 29 years with an awesome performance under Andrew McNamara.
Heavily backed in the morning to start 11-2 favourite, the Edward O'Grady-trained seven-year-old timed his run well to win by four and a half lengths.
Hold Em ran on at 14-1 under bottom weight to take third spot, behind the Paul Nicholls-trained Poquelin (12-1).
Plenty of others struggled in the testing conditions at Cheltenham.
The Irish, traditionally so successful in the Cheltenham Festival in March, had been waiting since Bright Highway in 1980 for a victory in this valuable two-and-a-half mile handicap chase, known until 1995 as the Mackeson Gold Cup.
And as the rain of the past few days diminished the chances of some of the English-trained contenders, many punters had put their faith in O'Grady's gelding.
Tranquil Sea has done little wrong in his career, this his seventh win in 16 races, and he had also done the business in Naas last time out on 31 October.
Here, he was always travelling smoothly and although occasionally jumping out to the right, never lost much momentum with any of his leaps.
Our Vic, a past winner of this but anchored by a top weight of 11st 12lb, set the pace and was still in with a shout turning for home along with Hold Em, but when McNamara had a long look over both shoulders the result never looked in doubt.
The jockey said afterwards: "He did everything right - he jumped well and travelled well. He handled the ground better than I expected. He got tired on the run in but travelled so sweetly."
The one horse who looked like he might scare the winner two from home, the Keith Goldsworthy-trained Hold Em who was sympathetically ridden by Jamie Moore, was eventually passed by Poquelin, who came on strongly up the hill under Ruby Walsh.
As a novice hurdler he looked like being top class but two days after he won his Grade One he was spooked by a pigeon
Ballyfitz, the early morning favourite, stayed on for fourth for the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard - though each-way backers got little return from a starting price of 6-1.
Winning trainer O'Grady said: "I looked at the Irish horses that had won this previously and they were brilliant horses - I'd love it if this fellow could aspire to the same levels.
"As a novice hurdler he looked like being top class but two days after he won his Grade One he was spooked by a pigeon, ran away from his lad and took a fall and we thought he had broken his shoulder which meant he was stood in his box for three months.
"He was brilliant his first start back last season but possibly because he didn't have a full summer at grass he trained off very quickly.
"He came back well in the spring and this race was always very much on my agenda."
O'Grady said he would be tempted to make the Ryanair Chase, a Cheltenham Festival race, the long-term target for Tranquil Sea.
All being well, he may meet Poquelin in that contest. The runner-up is being put away for the winter and will not re-appear until March, according to Nicholls.
Goldsworthy was thrilled with Hold Em's display, and will bring the horse back to Prestbury Park in December for a similar handicap.
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