Gordon Elliott apologises over image of him posing on top of dead horse

Irish trainer ‘co-operating fully’ with IHRB investigation into photograph

Top trainer Gordon Elliott has apologised for a controversial photo which appears to show him posing on top of a dead horse on his gallops.

The image which appeared on social media on Saturday evening has been described as “shocking” and sees one of racing’s most high-profile figures speaking on a phone while seeming to hold up two fingers in an apparent peace gesture.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) immediately launched an investigation which Elliott said in a tweet he was co-operating fully with.

The incident dominated racing headlines throughout Sunday with suggestions that the image may have been altered and speculation that Elliott could have to face a Referrals hearing for damaging the reputation of racing.


On Sunday night Elliott issued a statement confirming the veracity of the image and that it had occurred some time ago after the animal died of a heart attack on the gallops. He also said he is continuing to assist the IHRB with its investigation.

“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,” the statement reads.

“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 incident is the latest in a series of embarrassing controversies for Irish racing

Trainer Charles Byrnes is due to begin a six-month suspension later this week on the back of being seriously negligent in relation to his runner, Viking Hoard, being ‘nobbled’ with a sedative in Tramore in 2018.

The IHRB was also forced into an unreserved apology for shambolic scenes at the start of a race in Naas a month ago.

Co Meath-based Elliott, 42, is readying one of the strongest teams of Irish runners for the upcoming Cheltenham festival, an event at which he was leading trainer in both 2017 and 2018.

He has saddled 32 Cheltenham festival winners in all including four with the dual-Grand National hero Tiger Roll.

On the back of their investigation the IHRB could send the matter to a Referrals panel for further examination.

That could see Elliott liable for sanction under Rule 272 which relates to how any person within the jurisdiction of the governing bodies can be sanctioned if found to have acted in a manner “prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing”.

The sanctions open to the regulator include the suspension of a licence and/or a hefty fine.

The British Horseracing Authority described the picture on Sunday as “shocking” and said it hoped the IHRB will carry out its investigation as quickly as possible.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column