The stable staff member who took the photograph of Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse has been given a part-suspended nine-month disqualification for an action he described as “the biggest regret of his life”.
Simon McGonagle said his actions; taking the picture and then sending it to five others, were “30 seconds of madness”.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s (IHRB) referrals committee met virtually on 19 March to consider Mr McGonagle’s case. The hearing followed an investigation into the picture of Mr Elliott, which was widely circulated on social media last month.
In his evidence, Mr McGonagle spoke of his role as head lad for Denise Foster at Cullentra House, and previously for Gordon Elliott, by whom he was first employed in 2007.
He said he “foolishly” took the photograph on Snapchat and sent it to five people. He said he has spoken to each of the five he remembers sending it to, all of whom said they did not screenshot it, or remember seeing it since it was first sent in 2019.
The IHRB report states: “Mr. McGonagle accepted that the photograph showed disrespect to the horse involved but insisted there was no malice or disrespect intended. It was 30 seconds of madness that has had a devastating impact on himself, his friends, his work colleagues and his employer… which is something he will have to try and live with for the rest of his life.
“He added it was a stupid act and the biggest regret of his life as it doesn’t reflect the standards of horse welfare and care that is provided by him and by everyone he works with at Cullentra House on a daily basis. Mr McGonagle accepted that his action in taking and disseminating the photo was idiotic.”
Mrs Foster said she has known Mr McGonagle for a long time, describing him as “quiet and efficient in everything he does with both people and horses and that he has a lovely demeanour around horses, which she has seen first-hand especially in the last fortnight”.
The committee noted that Mr McGonagle took the picture and sent it to five friends, which ultimately led to its becoming public, from an unknown source.
“Mr McGonagle accepts that by virtue of his actions he was part of a chain of events that has caused damage to the integrity of racing and he fully understands the outrage expressed in relation to this image,” the report reads.
The committee found Mr McGonagle had breached a rule in that he “acted in a manner which was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing”.
“We will not repeat what has been said before about the awful image at the heart of this case,” the report states.
“The taking of the image was ill-judged and in bad taste and we consider that Mr McGonagle should have known better as a head lad involved in the industry for a considerable time. As head lad he should also show a good example to others in the yard.
“However, we reiterate the points made in the Elliott case that this incident is not concerned with cruelty or horse welfare. Also, having heard the evidence in this case we are no further on as to how this image came into the public domain and we can reach no conclusions on that issue.”
In deciding on the appropriate sanctions, the committee considered the damage caused to the industry’s reputation and integrity, the “idiotic” behaviour in taking, captioning and sharing the picture and also the “implicit support for Mr. Elliott’s actions by the taking of the image”.
“Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here
Trainer Gordon Elliott has been fined €15,000 (£12,916) and given a 12-month suspension, of which he is likely to serve
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In mitigation, they took into account Mr McGonagle’s “genuine remorse”, his apology and cooperation with the IHRB, his good character and the fact this was a momentary loss of judgement with no malice or forethought. They also considered his “integral” position at Cullentra, the financial implications of any ban and the fact he did not release the image on social media himself.
It was also pointed out that, unlike Mr Elliott’s case, Mr Mcgonagle is neither the trainer nor the main participant in the case.
He was given a nine-month disqualification, but owing to the mitigating factors, seven months will be suspended for a year, after which the disqualification will lapse.
The sanction comes into force on 16 April.
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