Top Irish jumps trainer Gordon Elliott has been banned from racing for 12 months, with six months suspended, and ordered to pay costs of €15,000, following his Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) referrals committee hearing on Friday.
A photograph of the County Meath-based handler sitting on a dead horse appeared on social media last Saturday. The image caused outrage in Ireland and beyond, with Elliott admitting that following day that the image was genuine.
The horse was identified as the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Morgan, who is believed to have suffered a heart attack during routine morning exercise in 2019. The horse’s owner Michael O’Leary, the Chief Executive Officer of Ryanair, has maintained his support for Elliott with whom he has enjoyed a successful 15-year relationship. The Gigginstown Stud boss described the incident as a “grievous but momentary lapse of judgement” on the part of Elliott.
The IHRB Referrals Committee today sat for three hours at Naas Racecourse, County Kildare, before issuing its judgement early this evening.
Elliott’s conduct was considered under Rules 272 and 273 (xiii) of the Rules of Racing and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Rules. The first deals with licensed individuals acting “in a manner which is prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing” and the latter with any act “likely to be prejudicial to the interests of the IHRB or which is likely to cause serious damage to the interests of horseracing in Ireland.”
The committee, consisting of Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, Mr Nick Wachman (a former Senior Steward of the Turf Club in Ireland) and The Hon. Mrs. Justice Siobhán Keegan found Elliott’s behaviour to be in “the most appalling bad taste” and “the reputation and integrity of horseracing has consequently been brought into disrepute and has been prejudiced and serious damage has been caused to a sport enjoyed and loved by so many”.
In suspending six months of the 12 month sentence suspension, the IHRB committee noted that Elliott had “accepted that his conduct was ‘disgraceful’, ‘horrific’ and ‘wholly inappropriate and distasteful’.” They accepted the three-time Aintree Grand National winner’s ‘genuine remorse’ and the fact he cooperated fully with the IHRB throughout the investigation.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board Referrals Committee explained that in considering an appropriate sanction for Elliott, the members took the following points into account:
- Outrage has been expressed by the racing and non-racing public that a horse, albeit deceased, could be treated in this manner. This Committee shares the public disquiet and believes and insists that animals, either alive or dead, must receive proper respect most especially from those in whose charge they happen to be.
- The consequences of Mr Elliott’s actions have damaged the reputation of the Irish racing and the 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.
- 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 unforgiveable 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 sanction to be visited upon Mr Elliott by this Committee is but one of a plethora of punishments which he is already suffering and will likely continue to suffer. These include serious damage to his reputation and, anecdotally, substantial economic loss through loss of business contracts and departure of horses from his yard to be trained elsewhere. The committee also bears in mind the evidence from Dr Pugh of the effect on his health.
- There is also a community of people either working for Mr Elliott or dependent on the business in the locality which will suffer considerable adverse consequences.
- The Committee believes that the sanction to be imposed must deter this type of behaviour.
The IHRB’s concluding statement said:
“We consider that a suspension of Mr Elliott’s training licence is merited. In all of the circumstances of this case, to reflect the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry, to deter other offences of this nature and having taken into account the mitigating factors we have heard, we consider the period should be 12 months, however, the last six months of this will be suspended.”
Even before today’s judgement, Elliott has already lost some of his best horses, the unbeaten Envoi Allen being the highest profile horse taken from him. The horse is one of a number of Cheveley Park Stud-owned stars moved to Elliott’s training rivals Henry De Bromhead and multiple-times Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins.
Gordon Elliott Statement
In a statement issued on his Twitter account, Gordon Elliott, who is Ireland’s leading trainer this season, accepted the judgement of the IHRB Referrals Committee and acknowledged the hurt he had caused to so many people.
Elliott admitted he was paying a “very heavy price” for his error but he said he has no complaints with the verdict. “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 an adult with obligations and a position in a sport I have loved since I first saw horses race,” he said.
“It breaks my heart to see the hurt I have caused to my colleagues, family, friends and supporters. I have a long road ahead of me but I will serve my time and then build back better.”
During the statement, he stressed the love he has for horses, stating:
“Horses are my life. I love them. No one comes into racing for money – it is a hard way to make a living. We are here because we love the 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.”
Elliott’s ban, which comes into effect on 9 March 2021, means he cannot train at his base at Cullentra, County Meath, nor can he attend a race meeting or point-to-point until September 2021.
Breandán Ó hUallacháin, Contributor