Gordon Elliott loophole proves racing 'does not care about animals'

Tom Morgan
·3-min read
The ban came after the 'unforgivable' photograph of Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse came to light  - REUTERS
The ban came after the 'unforgivable' photograph of Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse came to light - REUTERS

Racing came under renewed attack from activists on Saturday as a change of hands at Gordon Elliott’s stable ensured the banned trainer’s horses would run at Cheltenham.

Denise “Sneezy” Foster, 67, takes control at Cullentra House in Ireland as soon as disgraced Elliott begins a suspension over the photograph of him sitting on a dead horse.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) confirmed immediately after his effective six-month suspension that the path could be cleared for his horses to run if they were transferred to another trainer by March 9.

Elliott backlash: Fans upset over trainer’s offer of assistance
Elliott backlash: Fans upset over trainer’s offer of assistance

Senior figures defended the ban on Elliott only, as a reprieve for his stable safeguards at least 70 jobs while ensuring his horses are unaffected. However, both the Peta and Animal Aid campaign groups say the involvement of horses that Elliott has prepared at Cheltenham made his ban meaningless. Dene Stansall, Animal Aid’s racing consultant, called for a ban on “all of Elliott’s horses racing for at least until after the Grand National period”.

“That would have been a stronger penalty to Elliott, than a personal ban on him for six months,” Stansall said. “He will go on holiday for six months and come back refreshed while his stable carries on as normal.”

A damning verdict from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Friday said Elliott had shown “appalling bad taste” and a “complete absence of respect”. The 12-month ban – the last six months of which is suspended – will begin on Tuesday, a week before the start of the Cheltenham Festival. He must also pay 15,000 euros (£12,950) in costs.

The BHA welcomed the punishment, but added: “If horses are transferred directly to other licensed trainers prior to 9 March – when the suspension is due to commence – they will be able to run.”

After receiving his verdict, Elliott said: “I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused. 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.”

On Saturday Foster, who lives near the Irish stable and has sent out 10 winners over the past five seasons, confirmed she would take over from Tuesday.

“It’s daunting, but exciting,” she told Racing Post. “It feels right and I feel very comfortable with it. I’ve known Gordon for a long time and I already know a lot of his staff. ”

She will not be at Cheltenham, however, because she has not filled out paperwork in time.

After a week in which the image sparked international outrage, the IHRB committee hinted, however, at a potentially organised attempt to derail Elliott’s career. “There is also a sinister aspect to this case,” it said of the sudden appearance of the 2019 image on social media. “The committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is part of a concerted attack on Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown.”

Peta director Elisa Allen said the furore was “damning proof that the industry doesn’t actually care about the animals it claims to respect”. Stansall, of Animal Aid, added: “The sentence itself we feel hasn’t carried enough weight. ”

On Friday, Elliott, in his third statement apologising over the furore, admitted that his conduct was "disgraceful", "horrific" and "wholly inappropriate and distasteful".