The build-up to the prestigious Cheltenham Festival is the most important time of the year for every trainer, but Gordon Elliott now finds himself at the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons.
picture of Elliott sitting on a dead horse on the gallops has sparked a public outcry, some 14 years since the Meath trainer shot to fame when landing the Aintree Grand National with Silver Birch in 2007, just 12 months after taking out his license.
The Cullentra handler hadn't even trained a winner in Ireland at that point during the infancy of his career, but it was a sign of things to come as he continued to break barriers despite not hailing from a traditional racing background.
Equine careers are usually passed down through generations but Elliott's father was a panel beater – most of his family work in the car industry – while his mother was a housewife and he emerged from humble beginnings in Summerhill.
Education was never a passion of his and Elliott started out his racing journey with Meath trainer Tony Martin after leaving school in his mid teens before moving to England to work under legendary jumps trainer Martin Pipe.
He was a successful amateur jockey, albeit regularly struggling with his weight, who bagged nearly 50 winners and lots of point-to-point success in the saddle but training is his real passion and Pipe, who trained a whopping 4,180 winners, remains a close confidant to this day.
Elliott fashioned his training style in the image of the 75-year-old with winners the only currency that matter to him as he ventured to obscure UK tracks like Perth, Bangor and Stratford in search of victory rather than more competitive affairs in Ireland.
His first winner on Irish soil came when Toran Road scored at Kilbeggan a month after his Grand National breakthrough and there has been no stopping him since then with 32 Cheltenham Festival victories already under his belt.
Chicago Grey was his first Festival winner when taking the National Hunt Chase in 2011 and he has been a regular visitor to the winners' enclosure at the Cotswolds, including when Don Cossack secured the illustrious Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2016.
Like many of his other stable stars, Don Cossack raced in the famous maroon and white silks of the Michael O'Leary-owned Gigginstown House Stud, with the pair forming a successful partnership over the last 15 years.
"It is the most remarkable story in the training ranks in either Ireland or England,” Ryanair boss O'Leary said of Elliott in 2018. "He has come from nowhere. He drove his own van; he made his name by bringing bad horses over to Ayr to win races. He has come from nowhere in a remarkably short period of time."
Elliott, who turns 43 tomorrow, has been crowned Irish Independent Leading Trainer at the Cheltenham Festival on two occasions, securing it for a first time in 2017 and repeating the feat in 2018 when he ended the meeting with eight winners.
It is the mantle of Irish champion jumps trainer which he craves most, however, and he has finished runner-up to the mighty Willie Mullins on eight occasions having started from the bottom and earned his place at racing's top table.
Elliott, who is more at home in jeans, a bomber jacket and the obligatory wooly hat rather than racing's finery, trains a host of Ireland's leading National Hunt horses including the unbeaten Envoi Allen, Triumph Hurdle favourite Zanahiyr and Champion Bumper hopeful Sir Gerhard.
He also trains jump racing’s box office draw from his Longwood base, with dual Aintree Grand National hero Tiger Roll, also a four-time Festival winner, being readied for another tilt at the Cross Country Chase before bidding for a record-breaking hat-trick in the Liverpool feature next month.
Aside from O'Leary, Elliott has attracted some of racing's biggest owners with Cheveley Park Stud, Noel and Valerie Moran, Robcour and JP McManus all on his books after enjoying a sensational training career thus far.