Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott has “apologised profoundly” after a picture emerged of his sitting on a dead horse.
Tiger Roll’s Irish trainer has issued a statement in response to “an old photo” that was circulated on social media this weekend.
The Irish Horseracing Board is investigating the picture, which shows Mr Elliott astride a dead horse on his gallops, holding a phone to his ear and with a hand raised.
Mr Elliott said: “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.”
Mr Elliott said he felt it important to give people the context of the photo.
He added: “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.”
Two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll is one of 15 horses trained by Mr Elliott who were entered for this year’s race.
The 11-year-old is owned by Gigginstown, which also owns a number of other horses with the trainer.
Gigginstown boss Michael O’Leary said that he and his brother Eddie were “deeply disappointed by the unacceptable photo” but that they will continue to support Mr Elliott and the team.
In a statement, Mr O’Leary said: “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.”
Betfair has dropped Mr Elliott as an ambassador.
Find out this year’s initial entry of Grand National runners as Tiger Roll bids for his third victory
The 2019 Grand National entries feature 112 horses, including two former winners — 2018 champion Tiger Roll and 2017 victor
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A spokesman 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.”
The IHRB said: “The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are aware of an image circulating on social media and the matter is under investigation.”
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) also released a statement today (1 March).
A spokesman said: “The BHA is appalled by the image that appeared this weekend. We expect all those in our sport to demonstrate respect for horses, on the racecourse, in the training yard, on the gallops, and wherever they have horses in their care. People who work in our industry believe their values – of caring for and respecting our horses – have been deeply undermined by this behaviour. On their behalf, and on behalf of all horse-lovers, we say loudly that British horseracing finds this totally unacceptable.
“The BHA is considering its own regulatory options, recognising that the Irish authorities license Mr Elliott and are carrying out their own investigation.”
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