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Denise Foster to run Elliott yard while trainer serves six-month suspension

Gordon Elliott: will not attend any race meetings or point-to-points for next six months
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Trainer Gordon Elliott has had his licence suspended for six months and been fined €15,000 after he was found guilty of bringing racing into disrepute following the emergence of a picture of him sitting on a dead horse while taking a phone call in 2019.

Elliott was banned for a year but six months of that sentence will be suspended. He will not be appealing against the sanction and the Racing Post understands Denise 'Sneezy' Foster will take over the reins at Cullentra House next week. 

Foster initially began training solely over jumps, but she started training on the Flat as well in 2011, and enjoyed Listed success when Lily's Rainbow, who started off in handicaps with a rating of 67, won the Heritage Stakes at Navan in April 2016.

From her stable at Possextown, near Enfield in County Meath, Foster has sent out ten winners over the last five seasons, six on the Flat and four over jumps, including Pike County who was bought by JP McManus to remain in her yard after winning a bumper at Ballinrobe in 2018. Her latest winner was Swiss Swoo in a 7f maiden at Dundalk on February 26.

Elliott was punished under rule 272(i), which relates to someone within racing's jurisdiction acting in a manner which is 'prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing'. 

It means there will be no runners in Elliott's name at this month's Cheltenham Festival.

Gordon Elliott: "I am in this situation by my own action and I am not going to dodge this"

The hearing on Friday, which was chaired by Justice Raymond Groarke with Justice Siobhan Keegan and Nick Wachman also on the panel, took place at Naas racecourse.

In a statement issued by PR firm Powerscourt Group, Elliott said: "I accept my situation and my sanction and I am satisfied with my engagement with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. It is not an easy job to sit on the panel but I was dealt with fairly.

"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 no longer the teenage boy who first rode a horse at Tony Martin's 30 years ago. I am an adult with obligations and a position in a sport I have loved since I first saw horses race.

"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."

From photo's emergence to IHRB verdict: how the Gordon Elliott drama unfolded

In setting out the background to the case, the IHRB report stated: "The IHRB received an avalanche of complaints and the matter was rightly and fully scrutinised on the media."

The panel went on to note: "This committee is of the view that the photograph shows the most appalling bad taste on the part of Mr Elliott insofar as it demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the horse at a time when he still remains in his charge. We believe that respect is an integral and essential part of the duty owing by those in charge of animals alive or dead.

"It is undoubtedly and most regrettably the case that 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.

"There can be no doubt but that the production of the subject photograph has been a cause of enormous distress to all those who appreciate the enjoyment that horses bring to their lives."

Gordon Elliott poses in the picture that has united the sport in condemnation. The Racing Post has decided not to publish the bottom half of the photo

The image of Elliott sitting on Morgan, who died from a heart aneurysm as a seven-year-old in 2019, first circulated on social media last weekend. It quickly prompted a visceral response, but the committee made clear there was no question of animal cruelty at play. 

The report stated: "Also, it has not been suggested to the committee that the horses in Mr Elliott's care are maintained and looked after other than to the highest standards. This is confirmed by the witnesses we have heard from including the veterinary evidence and in our view Mr Elliott's success is testament to the care and attention he has provided to his horses."

Of the motivation behind releasing the picture last weekend, the report said: "In the view of the committee there is also a sinister aspect to this case. The committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is part of a concerted attack upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown.

"This has been canvassed not for the purpose of defence or absolution but in order to explain the publication at this time of a photograph which has existed since 2019."

More from the hearing:

Henrietta Knight and Noel Meade offer support for Gordon Elliott at hearing (Members' Club)

Impossible to measure damage but Elliott sanction seems fair and proportionate (Members' Club)

In response to the hearing the BHA said if Elliott-trained horses were transferred directly to other licensed trainers prior to March 9, when the suspension is due to commence, they would be able to run in Britain.

A statement said: "We welcome the fact that the Irish authorities have acted swiftly. The suspension will be reciprocated here in Britain. The existing restriction on Mr Elliott having runners in Britain will stay in place until the suspension takes effect on March 9.

"The IHRB referrals committee pointed to the fact that the photo showed appalling bad taste and demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the horse. We endorse these comments, and the view that respect is an integral and essential part of the duty of those in charge of animals."

The trainer, who has sent out 1,838 career winners, lost his best horse on Tuesday when Envoi Allen, the unbeaten superstar, was one of eight Cheveley Park horses removed from his care

Michael and Eddie O'Leary, Elliott's leading owners through their Gigginstown House Stud operation, have given their backing to Elliott despite being "deeply disappointed by the unacceptable photo".

The panel confirmed Elliott's full cooperation with the investigation and accepted his "genuine remorse".

In relation to the final verdict, it noted: "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 [IHRB chief medical officer] Dr Jennifer Pugh of the effect on his health."

Elliott told the committee he would not attend any race or point-to-point meeting for the next six months.

More on the Gordon Elliott story:

Gordon Elliott: 'I will spend my life paying for indefensible moment of madness'

Ted Walsh: the Gordon Elliott I know is not the one I see in that picture

'Shocking' image forced Cheveley Park to remove their horses from Gordon Elliott

Gordon Elliott barred from having runners in Britain while image inquiry goes on

Leading owners Gigginstown stand by Gordon Elliott after 'unacceptable' photo

Comment: the tragedy of these images is they have given cause to doubt racing's sincerity (Members' Club)

Comment: majority of horse people have been done a disservice by shocking images (Members' Club)

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It is undoubtedly and most regrettably the case that the reputation and integrity of horseracing has consequently been brought into disrepute
E.W. Terms