Gigginstown House Stud, one of Ireland’s leading owners groups, says it will continue to support Gordon Elliott after an investigation was launched into an image showing the trainer sat on a dead horse.
The image was posted and widely shared on Twitter, with the regulatory board (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board) of the sport in Ireland later tweeting: “The IHRB are aware of an image circulating on social media and the matter is under investigation.”
Elliott has said he wishes to ‘apologise profoundly’ for the image and is in “full cooperation” with the IRHB’s investigation.
Michael O’Leary, who campaigns his horses under the Gigginstown House Stud banner with brother Eddie, including dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll, described the incident as a “grievous but momentary lapse of judgement by Gordon” and intends to maintain his association with the County Meath handler.
In a statement on Monday, O’Leary said: “Eddie and I were deeply disappointed by the unacceptable photo which appeared on social media over the weekend.
“The care and welfare of all our horses comes first with all our trainers. Sadly, from time to time our horses suffer injuries and/or fatalities and we expect all such cases to be treated with the care and attention they deserve.
“We have always found that animal welfare comes first, second and third at Cullentra. From the facilities, to the brilliant team of people led by Gordon, our horses are trained with no expense spared for their development, welfare and care.
“We accept that the photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgement from Gordon, and not in keeping with our 15-year experience of his concern for and attention to the welfare of our horses.
“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 profound, sincere and unreserved apology, and we will continue to support him and his team at Cullentra as they work to recover from this deeply regrettable incident.”
We are truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph doing the rounds on social media however, we will await the official outcome of the investigation by the IHRB, which we trust will be swift, before making any further comment/decisions.
— Cheveley Park Stud (@CPStudOfficial) March 1, 2021
Cheveley Park Stud, who have Cheltenham Festival favourite Envoi Allen among their horses in training with Elliott, said: “We are truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph doing the rounds on social media. However, we will await the official outcome of the investigation by the IHRB, which we trust will be swift, before making any further comment/decisions.”
On Monday, Betfair announced it had dropped Elliott as one of the company’s ambassadors.
A Betfair spokesperson said: “While we recognise that Gordon deeply regrets and apologised unreservedly for his poor judgement his actions are completely at odds with the values of the Betfair brand and that of our employees.
“With that in mind, we have decided to discontinue our association with Gordon with immediate effect.”
In his statement on Sunday evening, Elliott said: “I would like to address the speculation and rumours that have been rife since an old photo of me began circulating on social media yesterday afternoon.
“Firstly, I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused and can categorically state that the welfare of each and every horse under my care is paramount and has been central to the success that we have enjoyed here at Cullentra.
“The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops. I appreciate that an initial viewing of this photo suggests it is a callous and staged photo but nothing could be further from the truth.
“At what was a sad time, which it is when any horse under my care passes away, my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned.
“I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which, to my memory I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.
“Such background information may seem trivial at this time and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing.
“However, I feel it is important to provide people with some context surrounding this photo. To the racing community, to anyone who has worked with and loves horses and to anyone offended by this image I cannot apologise enough.
“Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here and both myself and all of my team pride ourselves on those standards.
“Again I apologise for any offence caused and ask people to consider this statement as opposed to the various falsehoods and misinformation being circulated on social media.
“At this time, I would like to stress that I continue to extend my full cooperation with the ongoing IHRB investigation.”
Elliott is a three-time Grand National winner, having sent out Silver Birch to claim the Aintree prize before Tiger Roll became the first back-to-back winner of the race since Red Rum when lifting the marathon event in 2018 and 2019.
The County Meath handler also counts 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack among the best horses he has trained, with 32 Cheltenham Festival wins to his name so far.
Elliott houses a number of favourites for this year’s Festival, including Envoi Allen and Zanahiyr, while Tiger Roll himself is also due to run in the Glenfarclas Chase over Cheltenham’s cross-country fences.
Fitzgerald ’emotional’ during horse welfare discussion
Former Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Mick Fitzgerald told Sky Sports Racing he was saddened by the image, during an emotional discussion about horse welfare.
“My initial reaction to it was: ‘I hope it’s a fake’,” Fitzgerald said. “When I read that statement [from Elliott], I can’t help but feel anything else but feel so sad.
“The number one thing that we have to get out to everybody is how much we care about these horses. It’s so important.
“At the heart of this [the racing industry] are people who love these animals. It’s making me quite emotional because these horses have given me a life that I’m privileged to have.
“I’ve been in situations where horses I look after and ridden have unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice in our sport and the care and attention they get right until the very end is so important.
“We want to celebrate them [the horses]. We have nothing but the interest of these animals at heart.”