Gordon Elliott will not be permitted to have runners in Britain until the conclusion of an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board investigation into an image on social media that showed the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse on his gallops.
Racing authorities in Britain and Ireland have condemned the image, which Elliott confirmed in a statement on Sunday evening was genuine, apologising “profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused”, while seeking to explain what he said was the context of events that led to the photograph.
The IHRB has already launched a full investigation - and while Elliott is licensed in Ireland, the British Horseracing Authority said it was “appalled” by the image and was “considering its own regulatory options”, but has now acted.
A statement on Monday evening said: “The British Horseracing Authority will not allow the Irish trainer Gordon Elliott to race horses in Britain whilst the Irish authorities investigate an image that appeared on social media over the weekend.
“The trainer admitted the photo was genuine and apologised for his actions.
“The BHA, which regulates racing in Britain, will use powers under its own rules to refuse to allow horses trained by Mr Elliott to race in Britain pending consideration of the outcome of the Irish investigation.
“The action taken by the BHA recognises that Mr Elliott is licensed in Ireland, whose regulatory body, the IHRB, is carrying out its own investigation.
“However, Mr Elliott has entered horses to race in Britain, from which point the British rules of racing apply to him. The decision to refuse to allow horses trained by Mr Elliott to run in Britain is therefore an interim decision which the BHA regards as proportionate in these circumstances.”
After news of the suspension was announced, Elliott issued a further statement to the Racing Post in which he accepted the ban and said: “It is indefensible. Whether alive or dead, the horse was entitled to dignity. A moment of madness that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life paying for and that my staff are suffering for.
“I will be punished, I fully understand that. But it absolutely breaks my heart to read and hear people say that I have no respect for my horses. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My whole life has revolved around horses since I was a child. I know nothing else. Horses are all I have. I came from nothing and built a dream.
“When your world starts crumbling in front of you, it’s a scary place to be. I just hope people can understand how truly sorry I am and find some way to forgive me for what I have done.”
The BHA added that owners of horses currently trained by Elliott are permitted to transfer them to a different trainer and run them at a British meeting, “providing they comply with the relevant rules”.
The IHRB is hoping for a speedy resolution to the case, with a spokesman adding: “As is the case with all investigations carried out by the IHRB, there is a process that must be followed - and that will be the case in this instance. As stated over the weekend, this will be dealt with as quickly as possible.”
Despite the controversy, it was business as usual for Elliott on the racecourse at least, as he sent out Black Tears to win the Grade Three Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown - while Papal Lodge, Coach Carter and Mighty Potter were also on the mark for the Cullentra team.
Elliott also received a boost as Gigginstown House Stud owner Michael O’Leary confirmed his team - including dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll - would be going nowhere, opting to accept an apology for a “grievous but momentary lapse of judgement from Gordon”.
Cheveley Park Stud, who count hot Cheltenham Festival favourite Envoi Allen among their Elliott string, said they were “truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph”, but will wait for the IHRB investigation to conclude before making any decisions on the future.
Sire Du Berlais is prominent in the betting for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival. Frank Berry, racing manager for his owner JP McManus, declined to comment on the situation when contacted on Monday morning.
But online bookmakers Betfair - for whom Elliott has been an ambassador for several years - made a swift decision to cut ties with the trainer.
A statement read: “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 four-day Cheltenham Festival is due to get under way on 16 March.
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