Trainer Elliott's hearing set as he loses horses over photo scandal

·3 min read
Irish trainer Gordon Elliott (2R) is already losing owners over an image of him sitting on a dead horse

Leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott's apology for being photographed talking on the phone while sitting on a dead horse has fallen on deaf ears, with English owners Cheveley Park Stud removing their horses from his charge on Tuesday.

The 43-year-old will face a hearing on Friday held by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IRHB), with Ireland's Minister of Sport Jack Chambers telling broadcaster RTE he should be "held fully accountable for his actions."

Elliott may have lost Cheveley Park Stud and their eight horses but his principal owner, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, is standing by him.

Indeed they have intimated they will accompany Elliott to the hearing -- it was one of their horses whose dead body he sat on.

Elliott has brought Cheveley Park huge success, from Don Cossack's victory in the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup -- the blue riband of jumps racing -- to two successive Grand Nationals with Tiger Roll.

For the moment any hopes of Elliott has of adding to his 32 Cheltenham Festival winners in a fortnight's time are on hold.

He is barred from having runners in England till the hearing delivers its verdict.

However, his owners are allowed to transfer their horses to other trainers if they so wish.

The Cheveley Park-owned Envoi Allen is favourite for a novice chase at the Festival.

“We've made a decision this morning to move the horses from Gordon's yard," Cheveley Park director Richard Thompson told Sky Sports Racing.

Chambers, the Irish sports minister, made no bones about how he felt regarding the image of Elliott .

"Everything that has been said so far doesn't explain what everybody saw," said Chambers.

"Consequences are important and he needs to be held fully accountable.

"Everything should be on the table. Ireland has to set a high bar when it comes to animal standards."

The minister's comments came before a video emerged of amateur jockey Rob James jumping on a dead horse's body and pretending to ride it.

- 'Bottom of my stomach' -

Elliott burst onto the scene in 2007, when at the age of 29 he became the youngest trainer to win the Grand National with Silver Birch, before he had even trained a winner in Ireland.

However, having been seen as the favourite to dominate Irish jumps racing once champion trainer Willie Mullins retires the photograph/scandal threatens to undo his career.

It also casts uncertainty over the future of his 80 staff at his stables in County Meath north of Dublin.

Elliott admitted the photograph was "indefensible".

"When your world starts crumbling in front of you, it's a scary place to be," he told the Racing Post on Monday.

"It is indefensible. Whether alive or dead, the horse was entitled to dignity.

"A moment of madness that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life paying for and that my staff are suffering for."

While Cheveley Park went back on their original intention to wait for the outcome of the hearing it appears unlikley there will be a similar volte face by O'Leary.

"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," Gigginstown said in a statement on Monday.

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

"We accept Gordon's sincere, profound and unreserved apology and we will continue to support him and his team at Cullentra (his stables), as they work to recover from this deeply regrettable incident."

Others have not been so forgiving, including eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore.

"It just hit the bottom of my stomach," he told the BBC on seeing the photograph.

"We can't say we're looking after horses and giving them dignity when we're clearly not."