Trainer Gordon Elliott has been fined €15,000 (£12,916) and given a 12-month suspension, of which he is likely to serve six months, at a hearing into a photo of him sitting on a dead horse.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) referrals committee hearing, held today (Friday, 5 March), found Mr Elliott broke the rules of racing, by acting in a “manner which was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation” of the sport.
In a statement following the hearing, Mr Elliott said it “breaks his heart” to see the hurt he has caused to friends, family and supporters, that he accepts his sanction, will serve his time “then build back better”.
“It is not an easy job to sit on the panel, but I was dealt with fairly,” he said.
“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.”
He added he is “paying a very heavy price” for his error, but has “no complaints”.
“Horses are my life. I love them,” he said. “No one comes into racing for money — it is a hard way to make a living. We are here because we love 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.”
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What happened at the hearing?
The referrals committee considered evidence, provided by the IHRB and Mr Elliott, and the hearing report states that Mr Elliott “has accepted that his conduct was ‘disgraceful’, ‘horrific”’ and ‘wholly inappropriate and distasteful’.
“He also accepts that his conduct was indefensible and inimical to the reputation of horse racing and he recognises the damage he has caused to the reputation of horse racing,” the report adds.
The referrals committee, made up of Justice Raymond Groarke, Nick Wachman and the Hon Justice Siobhan Keegan, was of the view the photo “shows the most appalling bad taste” and has been a cause of “emotional distress to all those who appreciate the enjoyment that horses bring to their lives”.
The committee also found it “undoubtedly and most regrettably” brought the reputation and integrity of racing into disrepute, causing “serious damage” to the sport. The report added that “callously” posing for a photo was “entirely inappropriate” and Mr Elliott should have realised that photo may become public, “which shows and extraordinary lack of judgment on his part”.
“However, it is important to note that this incident is not one of cruelty to animals in the strict sense nor on the basis of the evidence we have received from the An Garda Siochana and from Sharon Power CEO and co-founder of Irish Horse Welfare is it an animal welfare issue,” adds the hearing.
“Also, it has not been suggested to the committee that the horses in Mr Elliott’s care are maintained and looked after other than to the highest standards.
“This is confirmed by the witnesses we have heard from including the veterinary evidence and in our view Mr Elliott’s success is testament to the care and attention he has provided to his horses.
“In the view of the committee 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 upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown.
“This has been canvassed not for the purpose of defence or absolution but in order to explain the publication at this time of a photograph which has existed since 2019.”
The committee took a number of factors into account when making a decision on its sanction. These included the outrage from both the racing and non-racing public, and the damage to the reputation of the Irish racing and thoroughbred industry.
“Mr Elliott has expressed what we believe to be a genuine remorse and accepts that he is unlikely to forget this episode in his life. We believe that he genuinely accepts that he was extraordinarily foolish to participate in the way he did,” adds the report.
“Mr Elliott fully cooperated with the investigated carried out by IHRB, he put his hands up at the earliest opportunity and fully accepted that his actions had offended many people; that what he did was wrong and unforgivable and indefensible.
“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 committee also acknowledged the punishments Mr Elliott is already suffering from the incident, including reputational damage, departure of horses, loss of contracts, the impact on his health, and the fact there are many people working for him, or depended on his business, who are suffering.
The committee concluded that a suspension of Mr Elliott’s training licence was appropriate, taking into account both the evidence and mitigating factors.
The suspension is for 12 months from 9 March, with the last six months of this suspended, and he has been fined €15,000. Mr Elliott has also stated to the committee that he will not attend a race meeting or a point-to-point for six months.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has confirmed the suspension will be reciprocated in Britain, which means horses will not be able to run at the Cheltenham Festival or Grand National Festival in his name. The BHA’s existing restriction that prevented Mr Elliott having runners in Britain pending the outcome of the IHRB investigation, will remain until the suspension takes effect on 9 March.
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