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Gigginstown and Michael O'Leary stand by Gordon Elliott after photo with dead horse emerges but Betfair cut ties


Gordon Elliot

Gordon Elliot

Gordon Elliot

The Michael O'Leary-owned Gigginstown House Stud have pledged their support to Gordon Elliott in the wake of the widespread controversy surrounding the photo of the Meath trainer sitting on a dead horse.

Elliott and Gigginstown have had a long and fruitful partnership with Cheltenham Gold Cup success for Don Cossack in 2016 and successive Aintree Grand National victories for Tiger Roll (2018 and '19) among a string of high-profile prizes which they have combined to plunder.

O'Leary was "deeply disappointed" by the image which appeared on social media over the weekend, but the Ryanair supremo will continue to support the Cullentra handler during this turbulent time.

In a statement today, O'Leary said: "Eddie (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 horses 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 the photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgement from 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 profound, sincere 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."

In a statement, Horse Racing Ireland condemned the 'disturbing' photograph.

"Horse Racing Ireland unreservedly condemns the disturbing photograph that appeared on social media at the weekend.

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"This image does not reflect the care, attention and respect that race horses receive, and does a disservice to the thousands of people who look after their horses on a daily basis. Horse Racing Ireland notes and supports the IHRB investigation into the circumstances around the photograph.

"From a disciplinary perspective, the matter is in process, so any further comment on the matter or the detail of the case at this time would not be appropriate."

Elliott, who turns 43 tomorrow, is preparing a star-studded team for the Cheltenham Festival later this month with the unbeaten Envoi Allen spearheading his battalion of runners heading to the Cotswolds,

Cheveley Park Stud, who own Envoi Allen as well as other Elliott stars like Sir Gerhard and Quilixios, are awaiting the outcome of the investigation being undertaken by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board before outlining their next move

"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," the Cheveley Park statement said.

Betfair have discontinued their association with Elliott as an ambassador in the wake of the controversial photo.

The betting exchange giant have officially cut ties with the Meath trainer as the fallout continues after the shocking image emerged over the weekend and sparked a massive public outcry.

Elliott apologised for his actions late on Sunday night, but Betfair have wasted little time in releasing a statement this morning and parting ways with the Cullentra handler.

"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 Betfair statement said.

"With that in mind, we have decided to discontinue our association with Gordon with immediate effect."

The photo in question shows Elliott, 42, sitting on a dead horse on the gallops while speaking on a phone and holding up two fingers in an apparent peace gesture.

Elliott apologised for his actions and attempted to give context to the photo when commenting late on Sunday night: "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."

Meanwhile, jockey and former RTÉ broadcaster Tracy Pigott said it’s a sad day for Irish horseracing and that she couldn’t sleep last night after seeing the controversial Elliott photo.

“I am deeply shocked because it’s the most horrendous type of publicity for the business and we need all the help we can get, we have been hit by Covid and so many things,” she said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Liveline.

“I think it’s very very sad, I couldn’t sleep last night because of it. I know some people would say ‘It’s only a horse and the horse is dead’ but it’s much bigger than that and brings so many things into question.”

Ms Pigott said she doesn’t doubt that Mr Gordon regrets his actions deeply, but that it’s caused “so much hurt”.

“It’s caused so much hurt, so much anger and so much terrible publicity. I think we need to remember at the heart of this it’s an animal that has made millions and millions for people over the years and continues to do so.

“I think it’s a very very sad day for Irish racing and I’m deeply upset about it.”

When asked if the situation is an aberration in the horse racing industry, the British-born jockey said “absolutely”.

She added: “I can’t get my head around it to be honest, and I’m sure you can hear the emotion in my voice.”

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