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Gordon Elliott: Dead horse photo sees Irish trainer lose yard sponsor eCOMM Merchant Solutions

Three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott has said he wishes to “apologise profoundly” for an image which showed him sat on a dead horse; IHRB to hear evidence on the case on Friday March 5 at 9.30am

Gordon Elliott’s yard sponsor has terminated its contract with the Irish trainer after a photo of him sat on a dead horse appeared online.

eCOMM Merchant Solutions, the company of prominent owners Noel and Valerie Moran, said in a short statement that they were terminating their sponsorship contract with Elliott “due to recent events”.

One of racing’s largest owner groups, Cheveley Park Stud, had already confirmed that all eight of their Elliott-trained horses are to be moved amid an investigation into the trainer.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has announced it will convene on Friday, March 5 at 9.30am to “hear evidence and consider an investigation relating to Mr Gordon Elliott”.

Racing authorities in Britain and Ireland have condemned the image of Elliott sat on a dead horse, 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 British Horseracing Authority said it was “appalled” by the image and has banned Elliott from saddling runners in Britain while the investigation is undertaken.

Gigginstown House Stud, run by Michael and Eddie O’Leary, announced on Monday it would continue to support Elliott, but many of its runners face the prospect of being barred from the lucrative Cheltenham Festival later this month.

Among the eight Cheveley Park Stud horses currently trained by Elliott is Cheltenham Festival favourite Envoi Allen, who is moving to fellow Irish trainer Henry de Bromhead, along with stablemates Quilixios and Ballyadam.

Sir Gerhard, who is set to put his unbeaten record on the line in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, will be trained by Willie Mullins, who already houses the favourite for the race in Kilcruit.

Cheveley Park Stud’s Richard Thompson told Sky Sports Racing: “We’ve made a decision this morning to move the horses from Gordon’s yard.

“We have eight horses [with Elliott], and they’ll go to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Mullins. That will be organised by Chris Richardson and the team. Logistics are in place, and we’re organising it right now.

“We had to consider what was happening yesterday with the building story and the backdrop of Cheveley’s reputation in terms of probably the most important British-owned racing and breeding operations in the UK, and the fact that this reputation has been built up, we have various breeders and many people who support us.

“We had to look at the context of where Cheveley sits in the industry and our responsibility to the industry in Britain.

“Obviously for Gordon, it’s a terrible time for him, but obviously he’s made a terrible error of judgement which he admits, but I explained to him we had to do the right thing by Cheveley Park.

“I’m not close enough to the centre of the politics of horse racing and how it works between Britain and Ireland and how these relationships work but all I know with my Cheveley Park Stud hat on is we had to take a decision as a board of directors to disassociate ourselves with Gordon at this time.”

In an interview with the Racing Post on Monday evening, Elliott described his behaviour as “indefensible” and said he would spend the rest of his life paying for “a moment of madness”.

BHA equine health director ‘shocked’

Former trainer James Given, who is now the BHA’s Director of Equine Health and Welfare, believes the ruling body made the correct decision in deciding to temporarily suspend Elliott from making entries in Britain.

“These are unprecedented times,” Given told Sky Sports Racing.

“Gordon, at the moment, holds more entries in Britain than almost any other trainer – and so we felt it was appropriate to take the action that we have, while we wait for the Irish to complete their process.”

When asked if Elliott-trained horses would be allowed to run in Britain if the IHRB concludes his actions do not merit a suspension, Given added: “I think the thing to do is let the Irish process work its way through – I don’t want to be speculating what they may come up with.

“We’ll let them carry out their due process and we’ll then react to that.”

While Cheveley Park have already removed the horses they have in training with Elliott, it remains unclear as to whether other owners will follow suit.

There have been suggestions another person could take over Elliott’s licence at Cullentra Stables, allowing the remaining horses to stay in the yard and potentially run at the Festival.

Given did not want to be drawn on whether such a plan was appropriate or feasible, but hopes a solution can be found which allows the equine stars currently at Cullentra to line up.

He said: “Our intention isn’t to stop the horses running – we want to see the best horses turn up at Cheltenham.

“I think we will judge each situation when we’re faced with it.”

From a personal point of view, Given spoke of his anger and frustration – describing Elliott’s actions as “selfish” and “callous”.

“I was shocked, like I’m sure everyone else was, but then anger and frustration were the emotions that took over for me,” said Given.

“So many people work so hard in this sport, to project a good image of the sport, and we were thoroughly let down by a selfish, callous action like that.

“I really feel like I’ve got a foot in two camps still. One thing that has struck me since coming to the BHA is just how many people absolutely love racing, love the horses and want the best for racing.

“I was a consumer of the BHA for a couple of decades or more and didn’t come across these people. But that sense of anger and frustration is just rife across the BHA, as it is across all the training communities, and everyone who loves their horses.

“I’ve had friends from Ireland calling me, expressing their frustration. It’s not just a British thing.

“We’ve all been let down by these stupid actions.”

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