Living or dead, a horse deserves respect: the shocking case of Gordon Elliot’s shameful photo

“Respect is an integral and essential part of the duty of those in charge of animals,” is the stern comment of the British Horseracing Authority on the case of Gordon Elliott. The Irish trainer features in a gruesome photograph that portrays him sitting on a dead horse and showing a two-finger V sign with his raised left hand. Elliot will probably bear a mark of shame for what he dabbed “a moment of madness” for the rest of his life.  The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) is now punishing him with a 12-month ban from training. The final six months are suspended. The penalty will apply from March 9th, just one week before the opening of the Cheltenham festival.

The effect will surely be felt on the odds, so be sure to keep updated on if you are planning to wager on the Cheltenham races. Elliot won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Don Cossack in 2016 and has twice been the leading trainer in the Festival. His absence is going to leave a large dent in the competition. The Grand National will feel it, too, because Elliot’s stable is sure to have several runners taking part in the race on April 10th. The 43-year-old Irishman is the trainer of the star Tiger Roll, winner of the Grand National in 2018 and 2019.

There will probably be some substitute trainer to take over the stables in County Meath, but a shadow will be now hanging over them all the same. And it will not be the same thing. Elliot rose to fame in 2007 as the youngest trainer to win the Grand National. He was barely 29 then and triumphed at Aintree with  Silver Birch. His stables in County Meath are purpose-built and the base of his successful ascent.

The IHRB took a long time to emit its verdict: a total of eight hours of debate on the case took place on March 5th. The British Horseracing Authority was pleased because “the Irish authorities have acted quickly.” The incriminated photograph appeared on Saturday, February 27th. Two days later, Elliot tried to explain how it was taken in a Twitter post. He said that the horse had died of a heart attack on the gallop and that he sat on it to take a phone call. The story sounds lame and has not dispelled the public wave of shock and repulsion provoked by the image.

Elliot’s “confession” cut short all theories about the photo being fake. His first reaction, on Twitter too, had been: “I’m aware of a photo in circulation on social media. The IHRB has been in contact with me regarding this photo, and I will be cooperating fully with their investigation.” That was the day after the photo appeared. After the verdict, the abashed trainer admitted that he is “in this situation by my own action, and I am not going to dodge away from this. 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.”

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