Gordon Elliott, the trainer of dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll, confirmed on Sunday evening that an image circulating widely on social media, which shows the trainer sitting on a dead horse on his gallops, is genuine, while also providing what he said was “some context” surrounding the circumstances in which it was taken.
Elliott said on Saturday evening that he was “cooperating fully” with an investigation into the image by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), but offered no further comment until 24 hours later, when he issued a statement to say that he wished to “address the speculation and rumours” that had been “rife since an old photo of me began circulating on social media” on Saturday afternoon.
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The statement continued: “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 [in County Meath].
“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.”
Elliott concluded his statement with a further apology for his actions. “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,” he said. “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.”
If Elliott’s licence is suspended or revoked, a new trainer would need to take responsibility for the horses at his stable in County Meath, including Tiger Roll and more than 100 more horses with entries at the Cheltenham Festival, which opens on 16 March.
Elliott’s confirmation that the photograph is genuine comes just two weeks before he is due to send a large team of horses to the Cheltenham Festival, where he was the top trainer in both 2017 and 2018. His runners at the meeting are due to include Envoi Allen, the odds-on favourite for the Marsh Novice Chase, and Zanahiyr, the 5-2 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle.
He is also due to saddle Tiger Roll, the winner of the Grand National in 2018 and 2019, in the Festival’s Cross Country Chase on 17 March, ahead of a possible attempt to emulate the legendary Red Rum with a third success in the Grand National on 10 April.
The IHRB has still not added further comment to an initial statement on Saturday evening that racing’s regulator in Ireland was “aware” of the image and that it had launched an investigation.
Following Elliott’s confirmation that the image was not faked, a hearing before the IHRB’s Referrals Committee – the equivalent of the British Horseracing Authority’s disciplinary panel – seems likely to be convened within days.