WARNING: THIS STORY INCLUDES A CONFRONTING IMAGE
An image of celebrated Irish trainer Gordon Elliott seemingly posing for a photo while sitting on a dead horse has sparked anger and outrage in British racing circles.
The photo led to the Irishman being banned on Monday (local time) from entering runners into British races until the conclusion of an investigation by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
Elliott, a three-time Grand National winner, has apologised and confirmed the authenticity of an undated photo that was shared across Twitter on Saturday.
It shows him sitting on a horse that had just died of a heart attack after a training run.
One of his most high-profile employers, Cheveley Park Stud, said it was “truly horrified” by the image.
Bookmaker Betfair dropped Elliott as an ambassador, saying his actions were not consistent with its “values”.
The sentiments were echoed by the body that runs British horseracing in a scathing statement.
“People who work in our industry believe their values – of caring for and respecting our horses – have been deeply undermined by this behaviour,” the British Horseracing Authority said.
The BHA said it was “appalled” by the image and imposed a temporary ban on Elliott training horses in British races while the IHRB investigates.
Elliott offered a somewhat convoluted explanation about the incident, which he said occurred “some time ago”.
He said he was waiting for the body of the horse – which has not been named – to be taken away when he received a phone call and sat down on the horse “without thinking”.
The image shows him in a pose, holding two fingers out while sitting astride the horse.
Elliott has been a Grand National-winning trainer three times, first in 2007 with Silver Birch.
He then trained Tiger Roll to become the first back-to-back winner of racing’s most gruelling jumps race – in 2018 and 2019 – since Red Rum in the 1970s.
Tiger Roll could yet make him the first trainer to win three consecutive Grand Nationals and the horse’s owner Michael O’Leary is one of the few to come out in support of Elliott.
“We accept that this photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgement by Gordon,” said O’Leary, who is also the chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.
“And not in keeping with our 15-year experience of his concern for and attention to the welfare of our horses.”