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Gordon Elliott handed one-year ban over dead horse photograph

Greg Wood
·3-min read

Gordon Elliott, one of racing most successful trainers, has been banned from training for 12 months by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, with the last six months suspended, over a photograph which emerged last Saturday showing him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops. The penalty will come into force on 9 March, a week before the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival where Elliott has twice been the leading trainer.

The IHRB’s verdict concluded an eight-hour hearing of the case on Friday, and is expected to lead to a new trainer taking temporary control of Elliott’s yard in County Meath ahead of the Festival meetings at both Cheltenham and Aintree, where the stable is likely to have runners in the Grand National on 10 April.

Related: Talking Horses: Cheltenham clues emerge with weights for handicaps

The verdict also noted a “sinister aspect” to the case, accepting “the release of this photograph is part of a concerted attack upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown”.

Elliott released a statement on Twitter shortly after his suspension was announced in which he said he had been “dealt with fairly” by the regulator and he “will carry the burden of my transgressions for the rest of my career”, adding: “I will never again disrespect a horse living or dead and I will not tolerate it in others.” Elliott also acknowledged he is “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 an adult with obligations and a position in a sport I have loved since I first saw horses race.

“I am paying a 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.”

The image of Elliott astride Morgan, a novice chaser which died as a seven‑year-old in 2019, caused widespread anger and revulsion in the racing industry and far beyond it. The trainer ended speculation about its authenticity on Sunday evening, and said in an interview on Monday that it had been the result of “a moment of madness”.

In delivering the panel’s verdict on the case on Friday, Mr Justice Groarke, its chair, said the photograph “had caused considerable public dismay and anger given not only what was depicted but also the jovial demeanour and gesticulations of Mr Elliott”.

Groarke also outlined the panel’s discussion of the case before deciding on an appropriate penalty. It determined that “on any reasonable objective interpretation” Elliott “was treating the dead animal as an object of amusement” and “callously participated” in a photograph which “given all the circumstances, was entirely inappropriate”. It also noted Elliott “has offered no credible explanation” for his actions, which “took place without deliberation or forethought over a time period of some seconds” and showed “a pointed absence of common sense”.

However, the panel noted the incident was “not one of cruelty in the strict sense nor on the basis of evidence received … [was] it an animal welfare issue”, and said it had heard no suggestion that horses in Elliott’s stable “are maintained and looked after other than to the highest standards”.

While it considered its penalty appropriate to Elliott’s offence, the panel acknowledged it is “but one of a plethora of punishments which he is already suffering and will likely continue to suffer. These include serious damage to his reputation and, anecdotally, substantial economic loss through loss of business contracts and departure of horses from his yard to be trained elsewhere”.

Elliott will also pay the IHRB’s €15,000 costs in bringing the case, and he has agreed not to attend any race meeting or point-to-point event for six months.