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Johnny Ward: Elliott deserves punishment but he should get a break too

The trainer often gave others a second chance, something he now needs himself.

Gordon Elliott: at the centre of a publicity storm.
Gordon Elliott: at the centre of a publicity storm.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

GORDON ELLIOTT HAS had a week of horror you would not reasonably wish upon anyone. 

He has been a victim of trial by social media, which is never good, and barred from having a runner in Britain without due process having taken place in Ireland.

When I gathered on Saturday evening that the image of him sitting astride the dead horse, Morgan, was indeed real, I put it around on WhatsApp that some context or explanation was needed, that a picture can and will mislead. He at least deserved to explain himself.

Elliott deserved credit for owning up to the image, but the details as provided in his statement on Sunday evening were in some ways more likely to inspire anger than what he did in the first place. Whoever advised him to issue that version of what happened let him down badly, and it is staggering how he could be so poorly advised well over 24 hours after he was made aware of the image’s proliferation on social media.

I texted him on Monday to wish him the best, genuinely concerned about his welfare, despite slating him that evening on the radio. However, David Jennings went many steps further, getting Elliott to talk in the Racing Post that evening, and you got a sense of nothing but regret, sadness and self-anger from Elliott, this time speaking without being told what to say.

The trainers I’ve spoken to feel bad for him and no doubt those trainers who have benefitted from the loss of the Cheveley Park steeds, Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead, do too.

“It’s not a hanging matter,” another said this afternoon. “Nobody died. The perception was not good but there are an awful lot more wrongs in the world getting far less publicity. 

“It’s a typical example of someone who has made it, he’s up there to be dragged down. They are all so holy about it. It was a terrible thing to do but at the end of the day he’s a Jack-the-lad, isn’t he?”

I feel this gets to the crux of why it happened. Elliott always used to laugh at me when I asked him when would he finally settle down and get married. He’s a teenager at heart, likes the bit of fun, to the extent he went as far as apologising on RTE one day at Leopardstown for having a few too many the night before.

That was a remarkable thing to do, and a reflection of his humility. And when a “Jack-the-lad” is among other Jack-the-lads, stupid things can and will happen. We can all accept this through personal experience.

The trainer went on: “He didn’t mean any harm. In old money it wouldn’t qualify as a mortal sin because he didn’t know at the time what he was doing what it was.”

Social media is a cesspit and, as would reflect the proper standards the traditional media has or should have, Elliott has got a relatively fair analysis on RTE. Davy Russell, clearly nervous, probably did him no favours on Prime Time, but Ted Walsh was terrific this morning.

“Maybe he should hand over his licence, maybe he should take a break, give it in and say ‘I’ll take six months or 12 months or a sabbatical’, take a breather to get his life back in order, to get himself back in order too. To take care of himself,” Walsh told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

He added: “The majority of people I know treat their horses with respect, alive and dead, Gordon’s outfit is a first class outfit, it’s like a Grade A five-star hotel, everything is well looked after, the results show that it is a well-run operation, I’m dumbfounded.”

Having asked about Elliott’s well-being in recent days, there is no doubt but that he is in a dark place, all the darker as he watched the best horse he’s trained, Envoi Allen, leave with others, presumably never to return, yesterday.

Moreover, he has been reduced to tears in front of his staff, as he fears for their future, and what he has done without really thinking. It’s obvious to me that somebody out to get him is at the heart of why he is in horror at the moment.

Think of the terror you might feel if you knew a person was trying to drag you through the mud on social media – and then think of what it might feel if you were as well-known as Gordon Elliott.

He deserves a severe punishment from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body hearing on Friday but he deserves a break too. This is a man who time and time again gave a second chance to his own staff. 

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And I know from my experience that some personnel in racing would laugh at you if you asked them to attend a Cheltenham preview night and quoted them anything south of four figures. Every year, without fail, Gordon Elliott does them for nothing.

Road to Cheltenham

The empire he built over years is in danger of crumbling in days. He has done great damage to the sport, but it cannot be compared to the damage he has done to himself.I doubt Elliott will be at Cheltenham but Zoffanien will and he looks to have a fine each-way chance in the Fred Winter, with William Hill a top-price 14-1 and going five places each-way.

He travelled like a dream at Naas Sunday, as did Band Of Outlaws in his prep for Fred Winter success in 2019. He makes considerable each-way appeal off what looks a reasonable mark.

Elliott has six entries for the race. One of them, Quilixios, was on the lorry out of Cullentra House on Tuesday. Who knows what fate lies ahead for the other five, or indeed Elliott?

We’ve all made mistakes.

Recommendation (scale 1-5)

Zoffanien to win Fred Winter

1pt each-way 14-1 Hills

About the author:

Johnny Ward

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