Racing Authorities Investigate Gordon Elliott Photograph
March 2, 2021
Following widespread anger and revulsion at the recently-released image of 43-year old Irish trainer, Gordon Elliott, astride a dead horse the British Racing Authority acted swiftly yesterday to “use powers under its own rules to refuse to allow horses trained by Mr Elliott to race in Britain pending the outcome of the Irish investigation”. The timing could not be worse for Elliott as the Cheltenham Festival starts in a fortnight and the Grand National will take place early next month.
It is now expected that the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) will suspend Elliott after its ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the photograph posted on Twitter over the weekend. Horse Racing Ireland has issued a statement condemning the photograph and supporting the IHRB investigation, saying “From a disciplinary perspective, the matter is in process, so any further comment on the matter or the detail of the case at this time would not be appropriate.”
Gordon Elliott’s contrition was clear in the statement he issued over the weekend in which he states “I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused. I can categorically state that the welfare of each and every horse under my care is paramount and has been central to the success that we have enjoyed” Elliott provided his explanation for the circumstances that led to the photo but acknowledged “such background information may seem trivial at this time and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing.”
The backlash against Elliott has been immediate and ferocious, with many within the horse-racing industry appalled, saddened and angry at the lack of respect implicit in the photograph. The emotional reaction of TV presenter and former jockey, Mick Fitzgerald, on At The Races may be representative as the former Grand National winner struggled to understand Elliott’s abhorrent actions and emphasised that the implicit lack of respect for horses is not representative, saying “at the heart of this (horse racing) are people who love these animals…these horses have given me a life I’m privileged to have and it just makes me really sad”. Former jockey Ruby Walsh’s comments sum up the response within the sport as he said “I felt angry, I felt embarrassed for my sport and I felt very sad”.
On a very sad day for horse racing, let @mickfitzg remind you how much people in the sport really do care about horses 🙌— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) March 1, 2021
The County Meath trainer is acknowledged as one of the best trainers in the business, and horses under Elliott’s care have won the Grand National three times (Silver Birch in 2007 and Mike O’Leary’s Tiger Roll in 2019 and 2020), the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Don Cossack in 2016) , the Irish Gold Cup (Delta Work last year) and the Irish Champion Hurdle (Apple’s Jade in 2019). As his success has grown over the past thirteen years, Gordon Elliott has become a rival for Willie Mullins, 14-times champion trainer. Already though, Betfair have axed Elliott as an ambassador for the company and the Cheveley Park Stud, whose horse Envoi Allen is trained by Elliott and favourite for the Marsh Novice Chase at the Festival, has made it clear that they are awaiting the outcome of the IHRB investigation before deciding whether or not to continue using Elliott as trainer. An exodus of owners and their horses is expected but one notable owner has stood by Gordon Elliott.
O’Leary announced in 2019 that he would wind up Gigginstown over a five year period but, in the-here-and-now, his support for Elliott may prove invaluable, particularly as he is the owner of two-time winner of Elliott’s most successful horse – Tiger Roll, two-time winner of the Grand National ( Sadly, it has just been announced 11-year old Tiger Roll will not race in this year’s Grand National due to an “unfair weight burden”).
But, so far, O’Leary is Gordon Elliott’s only notable supporter in this sorry situation and the cascade of criticism after the photo was released to social media has forced Elliott to issue a further apology. The collateral damage of this, the latest scandal to rock the horse racing industry, is enormous. The photo has sickened the public, many of whom struggle to understand a mainstream sport in which the participants regularly die or are injured. It also casts a long shadow over the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National and, in the longer term, it calls into question the integrity of a sport that employs thousands of people and entertains millions of racing fans.