Trainer Gordon Elliott banned over dead horse photo

·3 min read
Three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott (2nd right) faces a likely ban from the sport

Three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott was Friday banned for a year, six months of which are suspended, by Irish racing authorities after a photograph emerged of him sitting on a dead horse.

The image of the grinning trainer sitting astride the animal with two fingers raised in a "V for victory" gesture sparked fury and disgust across the sport.

The 43-year-old Irishman is one of the most high-profile figures in racing after training Tiger Roll to victory at Britain's Grand National in 2018 and 2019.

He had his first taste of glory at Aintree with Silver Birch in 2007.

But an Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board (IHRB) panel said his "extraordinarily foolish action" had damaged the reputation of the sport.

"We consider that a suspension of Mr Elliott’s training licence is merited," they said in a statement, which added that the sanction would apply from March 9.

"In all of the circumstances of this case, to reflect the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry, to deter other offences of this nature and having taken into account the mitigating factors we have heard, we consider the period should be 12 months.

"However, the last six months of this will be suspended."

Elliott, who was also ordered to pay 15,000 euros ($18,000) in costs, said he accepted the penalty and that he had been dealt with fairly.

"Horses are my life," he said in a statement. "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."

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

- 'Transgressions' -

"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."

British racing authorities had already banned Elliott pending the outcome of the investigation and he will miss the Cheltenham Festival later this month and the Grand National in April.

"We welcome the fact that the Irish authorities have acted swiftly," said the British Horseracing Authority.

"The suspension will be reciprocated here in Great Britain."

A number of people who employ Elliott had spoken out in support of him, including Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary, who owns the Gigginstown House Stud operation.

But others withdrew horses from his care, including English owners Cheveley Park Stud.

The horse in the photograph was O'Leary's animal, a seven-year-old called Morgan.

The three-strong IHRB panel said Elliott accepted that his conduct was "disgraceful" and "wholly inappropriate and distasteful".

They members of the panel said the photograph suggested Elliott was "heedless to the fact a horse in his charge has just died" and that he was "treating the dead animal as an object of amusement".

They also alluded to the manner in which the photo came to light last weekend on social media, having been taken in 2019.

"In the view of the committee there is also a sinister aspect to this case," they said.

"The committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is part of a concerted attack upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown."

The panel also said it had considered the negative effect on stable staff working for Elliott in making their decision.

The futures of dozens of staff in his stables north of Dublin hang in the balance until the owners decide what to do with their horses.