Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott has been axed by Betfair after images circulated of him sitting on a dead horse.
Elliott, 42, came under fire after the shocking pictures were shared on social media on Saturday, and he has apologised ‘profoundly’ and confirmed he was fully co-operating with an investigation.
But less than 24 hours after releasing a statement on the matter, in which he said sorry for his actions, betting giant Betfair has stopped their association with the Irishman with immediate effect.
Gordon Elliott has apologised after a photo appeared to show him sitting on a dead horse
Elliott is being investigated by the Irish authorities after the image was posted on social media
Elliott, who trains the hugely popular dual National winner Tiger Roll, was an ambassador for the bookmaker but Betfair revealed on Monday that their partnership with him has now ended.
‘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,’ a statement read.
‘With that in mind, we have decided to discontinue our association with Gordon with immediate effect.’
The picture shows Elliott sitting on what looks to be a dead horse while on the phone and holding up two fingers in a ‘peace’ gesture.
The trainer decided to offer an apology – insisting the welfare of his horses is ‘paramount’.
Leading owner Michael O’Leary has announced he will continue to support Elliott. O’Leary, who campaigns his horses under the Gigginstown House Stud banner and includes Tiger Roll in his team with Elliott, described the incident as a ‘grievous but momentary lapse of judgement by Gordon’ and intends to maintain his association with the County Meath handler.
In statement, O’Leary said: ‘Eddie (O’Leary, brother and racing manager) and I were deeply disappointed by the unacceptable photo which appeared on social media over the weekend.
‘The care and welfare of all our animals comes first with all our trainers. Sadly, from time to time, our horses suffer injuries and/or fatalities and we expect all such cases to be treated with the care and attention they deserve.
‘We have always found that animal welfare comes first, second and third at Cullentra. From the facilities, to the brilliant team of people led by Gordon, our horses are trained with no expense spared for their development, welfare and care.
‘We accept that this photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgement by Gordon, and not in keeping with our 15-year experience of his concern for and attention to the welfare of our horses.
‘We all make mistakes, and what is important is that we learn from them and ensure we do not repeat them. We accept Gordon’s sincere, profound and unreserved apology and we will continue to support him and his team at Cullentra, as they work to recover from this deeply regrettable incident.’
The 42-year-old has trained 147 winners this season – but could be suspended from the sport
Elliott also currently trains a number of high-profile horses for Cheveley Park Stud.
The most notable of those is Envoi Allen, who is arguably the most exciting horse in Elliott’s yard, with back-to-back Cheltenham Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle the highlights of his unbeaten career to date.
The seven-year-old is a hot favourite to win at Cheltenham for a third time in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, which takes place on March 18.
Cheveley Park released a statement on Monday morning, in which they said they were ‘horrified’ and ‘dismayed’ by the image.
The statement read: ‘We are truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph doing the rounds on social media. However, we will await the official outcome of the investigation by the IHRB, which we trust will be swift, before making any further comment/decisions.’
Elliott said the photo dated back to ‘some time ago’ and denied suggestions his actions had been ‘callous’, stressing that he was caught off-guard after receiving a phone call.
‘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,’ he wrote in a statement.
‘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.’
Elliott hit out at ‘falsehoods and misinformation’ around the picture on social media but said he put horse welfare first and would continue to co-operate with the investigation.
Elliott said horse welfare is ‘paramount’ to him and denied claims that the photo was ‘callous’
‘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,’ he added.
‘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 image had led the British Horseracing Authority to call on their Irish counterparts to quickly reveal the truth behind the ‘shocking picture’.
Timing could not be worse given the proximity of Cheltenham Festival, starting on March 16
Elliott does not fall under the jurisdiction of the British authorities as he is based and licensed in Ireland.
But the strongly-worded BHA statement was a recognition that the picture could damage the sport’s reputation as much as Elliott’s and undermine initiatives on equine welfare with the Cheltenham Festival only two weeks away.
A BHA spokesperson said: ‘We hope the Irish authorities will quickly confirm how this shocking picture originated.
‘Respect for horses is a fundamental value of our sport, contrary to the impression in this picture.
‘The IHRB have assured us that the investigation will be carried out as quickly as possible and that they will keep us informed as more information becomes available.’
The picture was posted on social media on Saturday evening, with Elliott releasing a statement on Twitter which said: ‘I’m aware of a photo in circulation on social media.
‘The IHRB have been in contact with me regarding this photo and I will be cooperating fully with their investigation.’
One prominent racing figure, speaking to Sportsmail on the condition of anonymity, voiced fears that the episode could develop into ‘one of the biggest PR disasters racing has ever faced’.
Elliott’s stock has soared thanks to Tiger Roll’s successive victories in the Grand National
As a trainer licensed in Ireland, Elliott, who has trained 147 winners this season, could face a disrepute charge which carries penalties ranging from a fine to a suspension.
IHRB chief executive Denis Egan has said the matter will be dealt with ‘very quickly’ and a spokesman for the IHRB added: ‘I can’t put a timeline on it but the investigation is ongoing and will be dealt with as quickly as possible.’
The timing could not be worse given the proximity of Cheltenham. Elliott trained seven winners there last year to take his career tally to 32.
Elliott was the youngest person to train a Grand National winner when, aged 29, he won the race in 2007 with Silver Birch.
He has since seen his profile rise thanks to his training of Tiger Roll, winner of the race on the last two occasions it has been run.
Those exploits have made the gelding arguably the best known steeplechase horse in Britain since the legendary Red Rum in the 1970s.
Tiger Roll, who like many of Elliott’s horses runs in the colours of the Gigginstown Stud of Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, is chasing his fifth Festival win.
He could then run again at Aintree and, along with Elliott, would have been expected to be centre stage in the most watched jumps race of year.