Gordon Elliott banned by British racing as sickening picture inquiry begins

MICK Fitzgerald has led racing’s universal condemnation of Gordon Elliott who was last night banned from having runners in Britain after a sickening image of the three-time Grand National-winning trainer and a dead horse appeared on social media.

Gordon Elliott has said he “cannot apologise enough” after an investigation was launched by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board into an image of the Grand National-winning trainer circulating on social media. (Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Wire)

Fitzgerald, who won the National 25 years ago on Rough Quest, fought back the tears as he spoke about the distress that the photograph had caused to the entire sport.

He spoke out as online betting giant Betfair terminated – with immediate effect – its long-term association with Elliott whose Tiger Roll is due to attempt to win a third National next month.

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As Ireland’s racing regulators launch immediate inquiries, the British Horseracing Authority said Elliott would be banned from having runners in this country until the matter is concluded.

Happier picture: Grand National winner Tiger Roll with trainer Gordon Elliott, left, and owner Michael O'Leary. Picture: PA

A statement said: “The BHA, which regulates racing in Britain, will use powers under its own rules to refuse to allow horses trained by Mr Elliott to race in Britain pending consideration of the outcome of the Irish investigation. “

Last night’s move paves the way for Elliott to be prevented from saddling runners at this month’s Cheltenham Festival, where he has many leading contenders, and Aintree’s National meeting.

Meanwhile racing stables around Britain took to social media to show pictures of horses being lovingly cared by staff to counter the Elliott scandal.

They all shared the revulsion of Fitzgerald, the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey, who spoke out after Elliott confirmed that the online photo of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops, while speaking on a mobile phone, was not a fake – the initial assumption of most people in racing.

Fitzgerald was further taken aback when the trainer issued a statement late on Sunday night to “apologise profoundly” for the offence caused and deny that it was “a callous and staged photo”.

Believed to have been taken some years ago, it is unclear who took the photo – but that it was circulated by a disgruntled former stable lad at Elliott’s yard.

Fitzgerald, speaking on Sky Sports Racing, said: “My initial reaction to it [the photo] was, ‘I hope it’s a fake’. I just thought it has to be a fake.

“When I read that statement I felt so sad. The number one thing we have to get out to everybody is how much we care about these horses.

“It’s making me quite emotional because these horses have given me a life that I’m privileged to have. It just makes me feel really sad.

“I’ve been in situations where horses I have looked after or ridden have unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice. The care and attention they get to the very end – we have to emphasise that people know we care for these horses. We want to celebrate them and make them realise how much they are loved by everybody in the sport.”

Past and present trainers have indicated that Elliott, who came to prominence when saddling Doncaster Sales bargain buy Silver Birch to win the 2007 National, will not be welcome at Cheltenham or Aintree. Some are thought to want him banned from the sport.

As the BHA said yesterday morning that it was “appalled by the image” and exploring “regulatory options” of its own, Betfair withdrew its considerable sponsorship.

However Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary – the boss of Ryanair – chose to stand by the trainer in the hope, and it might be a forlorn one, that the controversy passes.

Elliott’s many big race wins include the 2016 Gold Cup for O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, the trainer’s main patron and whose support has seen the yard become the second most successful in Irish jump racing.

“We accept that this photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgement by Gordon, and not in keeping with our 15-year experience of his concern for and attention to the welfare of our horses,” said O’Leary, whose Cheltenham runners are due to include the aforementioned Tiger Roll in the Cross Country Chase.

“We all make mistakes, and what is important is that we learn from them and ensure we do not repeat them.”

However, no such endorsement came from Cheveley Park Stud whose horses in training with Elliott include the prodigious Envoi Allen who is hot favourite for the Grade One Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Cheveley Park released a statement in which they said they were “horrified” and dismayed” by the image.

It went on: “However, we will await the official outcome of the investigation by the IHRB, which we trust will be swift, before making any further comment/decisions.”

There was speculation in Ireland that Envoi Allen was being moved to the yard of Henry de Bromhead, another top trainer.

Other horses Cheveley Park currently have in training with Elliott include Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Ballyadam, unbeaten juvenile hurdler Quilixios and leading Champion Bumper contender Sir Gerhard.

Meanwhile, Horse Racing Ireland said the image “does not reflect the care, attention and respect that racehorses receive, and does a disservice to the thousands of people who look after their horses on a daily basis”.

It added: “From a disciplinary perspective, the matter is in process, so any further comment would not be appropriate.”