(Reuters) – Irish trainer Gordon Elliott was banned for 12 months, six of them suspended, on Friday after a photograph circulated of him sitting astride a dead horse.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) said in a judgement that the photograph published on social media last weekend had showed “the most appalling bad taste on the part of Mr Elliott.
“It demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the horse at a time when he still remains in his charge,” it added, highlighting the “jovial demeanour and gesticulations” of the trainer.
The IHRB also indicated, however, that there was a “sinister aspect” to the case, referring to a “concerted attack” on Elliott, “the full circumstances of which are unknown.”
The sanction will start on March 9 and Elliott said in a statement that he accepted the situation and had been dealt with fairly.
“I am in this situation by my own action and I am not going to dodge away from this,” he said. “With my position in the sport I have great privileges and great responsibility. I did not live up to that responsibility.
“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 will never again disrespect a horse living or dead and I will not tolerate it in others,” he added.
Elliott had been barred from racing in Britain pending the Irish investigation and had already seen several top racehorses moved to other trainers.
His yard sponsor had terminated that deal and bookmaker Betfair ended an association with the trainer, whose horses include the Michael O’Leary-owned 2018 and 2019 Grand National winner Tiger Roll.
O’Leary had stood by him and Elliott said he would vindicate his owners’ faith and “build back better”.
“I want to thank my owners and my staff who, despite being let down by me, have been unstinting in their support.”
Elliott had already confirmed the photograph was genuine and the IHRB said it was taken on the gallops in 2019, after the horse Morgan had died.
The IHRB said Elliott had accepted his conduct was “disgraceful”, “horrific” and “wholly inappropriate and distasteful”.
“He recognises the damage he has caused to the reputation of horse racing,” it added.
The body noted, however, that the incident was not one of cruelty to animals and nor was it an animal welfare issue to pursue. Witnesses also testified that horses in Elliott’s care were looked after to the highest standards.
Elliott had explained the context of the photograph in a statement earlier in the week.
“At what was a sad time… my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned,” he explained, adding that he had received a phone call while standing over the horse and, unthinkingly, had sat down to take it.
“Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished,” he said.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Edmund Blair/Christian Radnedge/Ken Ferris)