HORSE RACING: Controversial photograph shows trainer sitting on top of dead horse

Horse racing at Kelso in Scotland, where Elliott occasionally has runners. Pictures by Bill Heaney

By Rory Murphy

The dead horse at the centre of the Gordon Elliott photograph controversy has been confirmed as the Michael O’Leary-owned Morgan.

The Irish Independent is reporting that Elliott was not in attendance himself. Betting shop punters and other racing enthusiasts in West Dunbartonshire will be shocked at this allegation against Elliott, which comes on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival in England.

Elliott has been banned for 12 months with the last six months suspended after being found guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute.

This followed the emergence of a photograph showing him sitting on a dead horse while on his phone.

The Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board (IHRB) issued the punishment on Friday.

It said the photo showed “appalling bad taste” by the Aintree Grand National-winning trainer and a “complete absence of respect” for the horse.

It added that the incident had caused serious damage to the reputation and integrity of horse racing.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has reciprocated the IHRB sanction and Elliott will now miss the Cheltenham Festival which starts on 16 March and the Grand National Festival next month.

However, the BHA added that if horses are transferred directly to other licensed trainers before Elliott’s suspension starts on 9 March then they will be able to run at both meetings.

In a statement, 43-year-old Elliott, who has also been ordered to pay costs of 15,000 euros (£12,900), said he accepted the punishment and would not appeal.

“I am in this situation by my own action and I am not going to dodge away from this,” he said.

“I was disrespectful to a dead horse, an animal that had been a loyal servant to me and was loved by my staff.

“I am paying a very heavy price for my error but I have no complaints. It breaks my heart to see the hurt I have caused to my colleagues, family, friends and supporters. I have a long road ahead of me but I will serve my time and then build back better.”

Elliott said that the photo was taken in 2019 on the gallops following the death of the horse Morgan and that he took a phone call and sat down on the horse “without thinking”.

The IHRB referrals committee accused the trainer of “an extraordinary lack of judgement” in allowing the photo to be taken when he knew or ought to have known that the result might well end up in public.

It also said that that Elliott offered no credible explanation.

However, it added that the case was not one of cruelty to animals nor related to animal welfare, and the IHRB chief executive Denis Egan revealed after the verdict that an unannounced stable inspection of Elliott’s yard this week led to no concerns about the horses in his care.

The committee further stated its belief that the publication of the photo was part of a “concerted attack upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown”.

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