Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott apologises for picture of him sitting on a dead horse
Betfair has discontinued its association with Elliott with immediate effect after the picture was posted and widely shared on Twitter on Saturday.
After many voiced initial doubts about the authenticity of the photograph, the County Meath trainer issued a statement late on Sunday evening confirming it was in fact genuine.
Elliott insisted that “horse welfare and care are at the core of everything” that is done at his Cullentra House Stables.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has launched a full investigation, and on Monday morning Betfair – for whom Elliott has been an ambassador for several years – confirmed that it was to cut ties with the trainer.
A statement from the online betting company read: “While we recognise that Gordon deeply regrets and apologised unreservedly for his poor judgement, his actions are completely at odds with the values of the Betfair brand and that of our employees.
“With that in mind, we have decided to discontinue our association with Gordon with immediate effect.”
Elliott has sought to explain the picture in a lengthy statement which stressed how important animal welfare was to him.
The statement read: “I would like to address the speculation and rumours that have been rife since an old photo of me began circulating on social media yesterday afternoon.
“Firstly, I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused and can categorically state that the welfare of each and every horse under my care is paramount and has been central to the success that we have enjoyed here at Cullentra.
“The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops. I appreciate that an initial viewing of this photo suggests it is a callous and staged photo but nothing could be further from the truth.
“At what was a sad time, which it is when any horse under my care passes away, my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned.
“I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which, to my memory I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.
“Such background information may seem trivial at this time and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing.
“However, I feel it is important to provide people with some context surrounding this photo. To the racing community, to anyone who has worked with and loves horses and to anyone offended by this image I cannot apologise enough.
“Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here and both myself and all of my team pride ourselves on those standards.
“Again I apologise for any offence caused and ask people to consider this statement as opposed to the various falsehoods and misinformation being circulated on social media.
“At this time I would like to stress that I continue to extend my full cooperation with the ongoing IHRB investigation.”
The IHRB said it was aware of the image and those inquiries are ongoing, with the authority working towards a swift resolution.
A spokesman said on Monday morning: “As is the case with all investigations carried out by the IHRB, there is a process that must be followed – and that will be the case in this instance.
“As stated over the weekend, this will be dealt with as quickly as possible.”
While Elliott is licensed in Ireland, the British Horseracing Authority is “considering its own regulatory options”, saying it is “appalled” by the image.
A statement read: “The BHA is appalled by the image that appeared this weekend. We expect all those in our sport to demonstrate respect for horses, on the racecourse, in the training yard, on the gallops, and wherever they have horses in their care.
“People who work in our industry believe their values – of caring for and respecting our horses – have been deeply undermined by this behaviour. On their behalf, and on behalf of all horse lovers, we say loudly that British horseracing finds this totally unacceptable.
“The BHA is considering its own regulatory options, recognising that the Irish authorities license Mr Elliott and are carrying out their own investigation.”
Elliott is a three-time Grand National winner, having sent out Silver Birch to claim the Aintree prize before Tiger Roll became the first back-to-back winner of the race since Red Rum when lifting the world-famous event in 2018 and 2019.
The 42-year-old also counts 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack among the best horses he has trained, with 32 Cheltenham Festival wins to his name so far.
Elliott houses a number of favourites for this year’s Festival, including Envoi Allen and Zanahiyr, while Tiger Roll himself is also due to run in the Glenfarclas Chase over Cheltenham’s cross-country fences.
Sire Du Berlais is prominent in the betting for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival. Frank Berry, racing manager for his owner JP McManus, declined to comment on the situation when contacted on Monday morning.