IT'S a fortnight to the Cheltenham Festival and instead of discussing the highlights on the horizon, it would be remiss of me not to address the storm that has engulfed our sport during the past week –picture.
Gordon Elliott is a self-made man. The son of a panel-beater and a housewife from Summerhill, Elliott learned his trade as an amateur jockey with the great Martin Pipe before moving home to set up his stable in county Meath.
He sent out his first runners in 2006 and was yet to train a winner in Ireland when he won the Aintree Grand National with the Paul Nicholls cast-off Silver Birch in 2007.
Since then, two more Grand Nationals would follow courtesy of Tiger Roll along with 32 Cheltenham Festival winners including a Gold Cup with Don Cossack.
Don’t mistake this as a eulogy, this is just some background to the man who has been subjected to the wrath of the world in the past week. Gordon Elliott turned 43 on Tuesday but last Saturday evening, a shocking picture emerged on social media that has ripped his world apart and has effectively destroyed everything he has worked so hard to achieve.
Elliott sitting on the ill-fated Morgan, chatting on the phone while smiling for the camera.
Disgraceful. Shameless. Disappointing.
Not only has this picture sent shockwaves through Cullentra but the entire industry has felt the tremors of this quake. Headline news on every media outlet throughout the week, racing has found its reputation pinned to a dartboard for anyone with an opinion to fire at the bullseye.
In the age of social media, everyone is entitled to their opinion and while we are not the judge or the jury, the online comments surrounding this case have been toxic, venomous even. Nobody denies there must be severe repercussions for such a heartless act but let’s be mindful that this man has watched his life’s work burn in an overnight flame.
Last week, Elliott was responsible for over a quarter of the handicap entries at the Cheltenham Festival and a number of Grade 1 favourites including Zanahiyr in the Triumph Hurdle and Envoi Allen in the Festival Chase. By Monday afternoon, the British Horseracing Authority released a statement outlining that Elliott would not be permitted to have any runners in the UK pending the outcome of the IHRB investigation.
Those who have forged relationships with these animals and know their characters, habits and preferences like nobody else.
On Tuesday afternoon, Cheveley Park Stud announced that they would be moving their eight horses from Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Mullins. Sir Gerhard, Grangeclare West and Classic Getaway to Mullins – Envoi Allen, Ballyadam, Malone Road, Quilixios and Guily Billy to Henry de Bromhead.
Imagine the heartache of watching the animals you adore leave their environment and the people they recognize as comrades. Horses react to their environment and the people around them, this revelation will have hurt Gordon Elliott more than any suspension ever could.
A workforce of nearly 80 people await Gordon’s fate. What will the outcome mean for them?
It is not for you, me or anyone online to decide what consequences should follow such actions, that responsibility lay with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. Elliott faces an IHRB disciplinary panel today, where a suspension of his license seems almost inevitable but what of his future?
Nobody can deny this man is a phenomenal trainer of racehorses. He will be sanctioned and he will serve his penance but when all is said and done, he has the right to rebuild his life.
He has the ability to succeed again and while the wound is fresh, some might deem this as lenient or unfair, but we must remember that this is a man who has admitted his mistake and vowed to learn from this dark chapter in his life.