From photo's emergence to IHRB verdict: how the Gordon Elliott drama unfolded
From the emergence of the photograph on social media of Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse to the outcome of the trainer's hearing, where he was fined €15,000 and banned for a year – with six months of the sentence suspended – we track the key developments of the week.
Saturday, February 27
The shocking image of Cheltenham Gold Cup and three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse on his gallops while on his phone is circulated widely on social media.
On Saturday evening, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board announces on Twitter at 7.29pm that it is "aware of an image circulating on social media and the matter is under investigation".
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are aware of an image circulating on social media and the matter is under investigation.— IHRB (@ihrb_ie) February 27, 2021
At 11.17pm, a tweet sent out by Elliott's own Twitter account confirms his awareness of the image on social media, that the IHRB had been in contact regarding the photo and that he is fully cooperating with the investigation.
Sunday, February 28
A statement from Elliott shortly before midnight on Sunday addresses the widespread speculation regarding the photo and admits it is genuine. In his statement, Elliott apologises for any offence caused and says "the welfare of each and every horse under my care has been paramount". He also provides some context for the controversial photo.
Monday, March 1
Leading bookmaker Betfair discontinue their association with Elliott as an ambassador.
Two of Elliott's leading owners, Cheveley Park Stud and Gigginstown House Stud, release statements almost simultaneously. Cheveley Park says: "We are truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph doing the rounds on social media, however, we will await the official outcome of the investigation by the IHRB, which we trust will be swift, before making any further comment/decisions."
Gigginstown's Michael and Eddie O'Leary, owners of the Elliott-trained Tiger Roll, Abacadabras and Delta Work among others, back Elliott and say they will continue to support the trainer despite being "deeply disappointed by the unacceptable photo which appeared on social media over the weekend".
Prominent owners Noel and Valerie Moran, who have three Cheltenham Festival favourites including Triumph Hurdle contender Zanahiyr, announce a similar stance to Cheveley Park, saying they will await the outcome of the IHRB investigation.
There is widespread condemnation of the Elliott image inside and outside of the horseracing industry including from the National Trainers Federation, which expresses its dismay at the image and says it had been contacted by outraged members over the previous 24 hours.
The BHA releases a statement on Monday afternoon which says it is "appalled" by the image. On Monday evening, the BHA releases a further statement announcing it will prevent Elliott from saddling runners in Britain while the Irish authorities investigate the photograph. The statement adds that owners will be permitted to transfer horses to a different trainer and run them at British meetings. Elliott has 104 entries in the early-closing races at this month's Cheltenham Festival.
In an exclusive interview with the Racing Post, Elliott says he has let down the racing industry, his owners and his staff with an "indefensible moment of madness". Elliott says the horse pictured was Morgan, who died of a heart aneurysm in 2019.
Tuesday, March 2
A separate social media video of Rob James, a Cheltenham Festival-winning amateur jockey, straddling a dead horse attracts further condemnation after it surfaces late on Monday night. James confirms on Tuesday to the Irish Field he is in the video and apologises.
Gigginstown withdraw two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll from next month's race at Aintree for unrelated reasons, citing their belief he had been handed an "unfair weight" by BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood.
On Tuesday lunchtime, the IHRB announces the referral hearing in relation to the Elliott investigation will take place on Friday.
Shortly afterwards, Cheveley Park announce they are moving their eight horses from Elliott to Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead. Unbeaten superstar Envoi Allen, Quilixios and Ballyadam are among the five heading to De Bromhead, while Champion Bumper contender Sir Gerhard is one of three joining Mullins.
On Tuesday evening, Elliott's yard sponsor, eCOMM Merchant Solutions, announces it has terminated its contract "due to recent events". The Morans are founders of eCOMM, of which Noel is CEO, sparking rumours their horses are also on the move.
Wednesday, March 3
The Morans dismiss rumours they have moved their horses from Elliott's yard, telling the Racing Post they are "totally untrue".
The BHA's director of equine health and welfare, James Given, says the authority’s intention "isn't to stop horses running" at the Cheltenham Festival.
Philip Reynolds, owner of Presenting Percy and seven others trained by Elliott, vow to support the trainer in a statement.
Thursday, March 4
The IHRB confirms the start time of 9.30am for Friday's hearing and that it will take place in person at an undisclosed location. The charge Elliott will face is also not disclosed.
It emerges that it seems unlikely the trainer will saddle runners at the Cheltenham Festival, with the BHA having the power under its rules to extend the temporary block on Elliott entries regardless of the outcome of the case.
Suggestions had been made that Davy Russell, who has been an integral part of some of Elliott's biggest successes, could take a hands-on role in the training of the string, but the sidelined rider, speaking to the Irish Independent, moves to quash such rumours and emphasises that a return to the saddle is at the forefront of his mind.
Friday, March 5
The hearing begins at 9.30am and the result emerges just after 5.30pm. Elliott receives a year-long ban – six months of which is a suspended sentence – and a €15,000 fine. He accepts the sanction and states he will not be appealing.
Speaking to the Racing Post, Elliott says: "I am paying a very heavy price for my error but I have no complaints. 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."
The verdict confirms there will be no runners in Elliott's name at this month's Cheltenham Festival.
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