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Michael O’Leary will ‘continue to support’ trainer Gordon Elliott despite ‘unacceptable’ photograph

Betfair, however, has severed ties with Elliott after he was photographed sitting on a dead horse.

File photo of Michael O'Leary (left) with Gordon Elliott.
File photo of Michael O'Leary (left) with Gordon Elliott.
Image: PA

GIGGINSTOWN HOUSE STUD and Ryanair owner Michael O’Leary will maintain his support for Gordon Elliott following the release of an image of the Grand National-winning trainer on social media.

While there were initial doubts about the authenticity of a photograph which was posted and widely shared on Saturday, Elliott confirmed in a statement late on Sunday evening that the image – which shows him sitting on a dead horse on the gallops – was in fact genuine.

Elliott said in his statement that he “cannot apologise enough”, and that he wanted to “apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused”, while seeking to explain the context of events that led to the picture.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has launched a full investigation, and a spokesman said on Monday that the matter will be dealt with “as quickly as possible”.

Horse Racing Ireland have moved to condemn the photograph in a statement released this afternoon.

“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,” it read. “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.”

Through his Gigginstown operation, O’Leary has been one of Elliott’s biggest supporters – with the pair most notably combining to win two Randox Grand Nationals at Aintree with the hugely popular Tiger Roll.

In a statement issued on Monday, O’Leary – who together with Elliott also won the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup with Don Cossack – described the photograph in question as “unacceptable”, but said he accepted the trainer’s “sincere, profound and unreserved apology”.

The statement read: “Eddie (O’Leary, brother) 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.”

Cheveley Park Stud will await the outcome of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board investigation before making any decisions on the future of the several high-profile horses they have in training with Elliott.

The hugely successful breeders and owners, more renowned for their success on the Flat, have ramped up their interest in National Hunt racing in recent years and have already enjoyed multiple big-race winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

The most notable is Envoi Allen, arguably the most exciting horse in Elliott’s yard following back-to-back Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 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 on March 18.

Cheveley Park released a statement 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.”

Betfair, however, has discontinued its  association with Elliott with immediate effect following the release of the image. 

Betfair – for whom Elliott has been an ambassador for several years – confirmed that it was to cut ties with the trainer in a statement today. 

“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.

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

The IHRB stated on Saturday evening it was aware of the image and those inquiries are ongoing, with the authority working towards a swift resolution.

A spokesman said on Monday morning: “As is the case with all investigations carried out by the IHRB, there is a process that must be followed – and that will be the case in this instance.

“As stated over the weekend, this will be dealt with as quickly as possible.”

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA), meanwhile, have declared themselves “appalled” by the image, and are exploring their own regulatory options. 

“The BHA is appalled by the image that appeared this weekend. We expect all those in our sport to demonstrate respect for horses, on the racecourse, in the training yard, on the gallops, and wherever they have horses in their care. People who work in our industry believe their values – of caring for and respecting our horses – have been deeply undermined by this behaviour. On their behalf, and on behalf of all horse-lovers, we say unequivocally that British horseracing finds this totally unacceptable.

“The BHA is considering its own regulatory options, recognising that the Irish authorities license Mr Elliott and are carrying out their own investigation.” 

With reporting by Gavin Cooney

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