Disgraced trainer Gordon Elliott banned for a year with six months suspended

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Fri 5 Mar 2021

Gordon Elliott has been handed a 12-month ban, with the last six months suspended, following an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals hearing into the image posted on social media last weekend of the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse.

In addition to the suspension, Elliott was also ordered to pay costs of €15,000.

The punishment will come into force on Tuesday and a new trainer will have to be in temporary control of Elliott’s yard by then for the stable's Cheltenham Festival runners to take part a week later.

It was six days ago that a shocking photo of Elliott sitting on a dead horse, a seven-year-old called Morgan, at his County Meath yard appeared on social media. He was smiling and offering a two-fingered peace sign.

Elliott, 43, whose 1600 winners include three Grand National triumphs, had admitted his actions were “indefensible” ahead of his hearing, which began at 9.30am at a secret location and lasted about eight hours.

 Elliott says 'I will never again disrespect a horse living or dead and I will not tolerate it in others'
Elliott says 'I will never again disrespect a horse living or dead and I will not tolerate it in others'

The parties in question met in person, rather than remotely. A three-person panel considered evidence presented to them by the IHRB investigation team and then Elliott and his team had the chance to give evidence and mitigation.

As part of the investigation, there was an unannounced stable inspection of Elliott's yard this week. It led to no concerns about the welfare of the horses in his care, as has been the case during other inspection carried out at his premises each year.

The panel then adjourned before giving their verdict, which was that he had brought racing into disrepute.

Elliott will not appeal and swiftly took to Twitter to say: "I accept my situation and my sanction and I am satisfied with my engagement with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. It is not an easy job to sit on the panel but I was dealt with fairly.

"I am in this situation by my own action and I am not going to dodge away from this. With my position in the sport I have great privileges and great responsibility. I did not live up to that responsibility.

"I am no longer the teenage boy who first rode a horse at Tony Martin's 30 years ago. I am an adult with obligations and a position in a sport I have loved since I first saw horses race.

Nick Luck on Elliott's punishment

"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.

"Horses are my life. I love them. No one comes into racing for money - it is a hard way to make a living. We are here because we love the horses. Anyone who has visited my stables at Cullentra will see the meticulous care with which we treat our horses.

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

"I will carry the burden of my transgressions for the rest of my career. I will never again disrespect a horse, living or dead, and I will not tolerate it in others. Finally I want to thank my owners and my staff who, despite being let down by me, have been unstinting in their support. I will vindicate their faith in me."

Jane Mangan gives her view

After considering the evidence, a statement from the IHRB referrals committee said in its view "there is also a sinister aspect to this case. The committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is part of a concerted attack on Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown.

"This has been canvassed not for the purposes of defence or absolution but in order to explain the publication of a photograph that has existed since 2019."

In considering sanctions, it said "the committee recognises that the sanction must be arrived at taking into account all of the circumstances, and the aggravating and mitigating factors including Mr Elliott's personal circumstances, in order to achieve a proportionate result."

Among the matters considered was the fact "outrage has been expressed by the racing and non-racing public that a horse, albeit deceased, could be treated in this manner."

The IHRB said Elliott had "expressed what we believe to be a genuine remorse and accepts that he is unlikely to forget this episode in his life", with the committee adding it believed he "genuinely accepts that he was extraordinarily foolish to participate in the way he did".

It added: "whilst the incident in question was unforgivable, it was, nonetheless, an event which took place without deliberation or forethought over a time period of some seconds. There was a pointed absence of common sense."

The photo was so unimaginable that many believed it must have been the work of a mischief maker using photoshop. But 24 hours later, Elliott admitted it was genuine.

Britain’s governing body, the BHA, announced the following day they would refuse to allow horses trained by Elliott to race in Britain pending the outcome of the Irish investigation. They described the photo as “shocking” and “appalling”.

Since then, the trainer has had several of his best horses taken away and moved to rivals - including one of the sport’s biggest stars in Envoi Allen – and the sponsors of his Cullentra House Stables have terminated their contract. Betfair have ended their association with him and British trainers have collectively voiced their “outrage and disgust”.

Jack Kennedy rode a winner for Elliott on Friday and spoke about emotions at the yard

Morgan was not a stable star, but just the kind of horse who helped Elliott climb the ladder when he took out a licence in 2006, having previously ridden as an amateur jockey.

In the first instance he excelled with modest performers, revived horses who had problems and embarrassed his peers by excelling with their cast-offs. His first Grand National winner, Silver Birch, was a prime example when he belied odds of 33-1 at Aintree in 2007.

That success thrust Elliott, 29 at the time, on to the big stage and owners soon began knocking on his door, rather than vice-versa. When the powerful Gigginstown House Stud operation came calling, it was clear he had reached another level: the one just tantalisingly below that of serial champion trainer Willie Mullins.

Since then, he has accumulated more and more horses, running a mind-boggling 318 in Ireland this season. The vast majority remain in his care.

The BHA said it "welcomed" the decision of the IRHB committee.

A statement said: "We welcome the fact that the Irish authorities have acted swiftly. The suspension will be reciprocated here in Great Britain. The existing restriction on Mr Elliott having runners in Great Britain will stay in place until the suspension takes effect on 9 March.

"The IHRB Referrals Committee pointed to the fact that the photo showed appalling bad taste and demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the horse. We endorse these comments, and the view that respect is an integral and essential part of the duty of those in charge of animals.

"Today's decision confirms that horses will not be able to run at the Cheltenham Festival or Grand National Festival in the name of Gordon Elliott.

"However, if horses are transferred directly to other licensed trainers prior to 9 March - when the suspension is due to commence - they will be able to run."

Denis Egan, CEO of the IHRB, felt the case had been dealt with "fairly and appropriately", but lamented the "damage to the reputation of the sport".

He added: "Ireland and its racehorse trainers, riders, breeders and workers are held in high regard globally providing some of the very best horses and the very best racing talent.

"We recognise the heartfelt upset that this matter has caused to people inside and outside of racing, none more so than to the staff employed by Mr Elliott. We also see at first hand both on the racecourse and as part of our stable inspection programme that horses receive unrivalled care, attention, and affection.

"Indeed, as part of the investigation into this very case, an unannounced stable inspection of Mr Elliott's yard this week led to no concerns about the welfare of the horses in his care, as has been the case during any other inspection we carried out at his premises each year.

"In our opinion the incident covered in today's hearing is not reflective of Irish racing."

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