Industry-leading racehorse trainer Gordon Elliott has issued a “profound apology” after a photograph showing him straddling a dead horse drew outraged accusations of animal cruelty after it began circulating on social media.
Elliott, who trained the world-famous Tiger Roll to two successive Grand National wins in 2018 and 2019, came under fire after the image, which shows him taking a phone call while sitting atop the deceased animal, went viral on social media over the course of the weekend.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) announced that they were opening an investigation into the matter, to which Irishman Elliott confirmed he would participate fully – and the 43-year-old has since come forward with a mea culpa.
“I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused,” Elliott announced.
Gordon Elliott is trying to explain away that photo by saying that he just happened to sit on a dead horse by chance whilst on the phone and someone just happened to take a photo…. pic.twitter.com/KLZKGsCqdw
— Caolán Mc Aree (@Caolanmcaree) February 28, 2021
Just saw this Gordon Elliott picture. It is as bad as it gets. No wonder many think that racing folks have no respect for the horse. Even if 99% do, the 1% perpetuate the image of an uncaring, unfeeling racing industry. Sickening. https://t.co/adHqJXXrbA
— Andrew Hawkins (@AndrewNJHawkins) February 28, 2021
“I 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,” his statement continued.
“The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops.
“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.”
The furore surrounding the offending image hasn’t gone unnoticed by several other bodies within the sport. A prominent gambling website has since ended a partnership with Elliott, describing the incident as being “completely at odds with the value of the brand“, while animal rights watchdog World Horse Welfare said: “This photo looks abhorrent. We understand the trainer has apologised and there is an investigation ongoing.”
Elliott has confirmed that he will fully participate in any ongoing investigations, which industry insiders have suggested could lead to a ban forcing him to miss the upcoming Cheltenham festival and putting his participation in April’s Grand National – where Tiger Roll will chase a record-equalling third win – into serious question.