MARTIN SAMUEL: Gordon Elliott's lame explanation doesn't fool anyone

MARTIN SAMUEL: Gordon Elliott has failed to fool us with his lame explanation over why he posed astride a dead horse… we’re told nobody cares for animals more than those in racing, but is it any wonder they are met with increasing scepticism?

  • A photo of Gordon Elliott on a dead horse emerged on social media on Saturday
  • Trainer of three Grand National winners gave an explanation for the photograph
  • Elliott is now under investigation having brought the sport into disrepute

Gordon Elliott, trainer of three Grand National winners including Tiger Roll, has given his explanation for the photograph that appeared of him sitting on a dead horse. 

And what an explanation it is, too. A cynic might even argue he is flogging a – well, you know.

‘The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops,’ Elliott said. 

Gordon Elliott has provided his explanation for the photo of him sitting astride a dead horse

‘At what was a sad time, my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned. I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which, to my memory I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it…’ 

Sat down on a dead horse, that is. Just to clarify the key fact missing from that sentence. ‘I sat down [on a dead horse] to take it.’ Pray continue.

‘…hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.’ 

Ah, so that would be the apparent V for victory sign Elliott is making in the image. He’s signalling two minutes. As in: ‘Give me two minutes to sit on this dead horse and finish this call, and then I’ll get up from sitting on this dead horse and be right with you.’ 

Actually, Elliott is not so much sitting on the unfortunate animal as astride it. Not a natural resting position, astride. 

Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are investigating Elliott for bringing racing into disrepute

Many people sit down to take a telephone call, very few sit astride on hearing the ringtone. Pavlov’s Jockeys, maybe. In the park, folk are often found sitting on benches. Not astride benches, mind, even though they can. 

They sit facing forward. That’s the human sitting position. Cocking one leg over, certainly across an expanse as big as a dead horse, takes calculation, effort and is uncomfortable. 

Even horsey folk don’t tend to sit astride, on anything but horses; although not, we hope, on dead ones.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are now investigating Elliott under the catch-all remit of bringing the sport into disrepute. 

There are no specific rules against using dead horses as incidental furniture, probably because it never occurred that an individual – certainly one engaged in an industry that purports to love horses – would display such an absence of decency and respect. 

Elliott, pictured last month, faces a fight to restore his reputation after the picture was shared

Yet disrepute punishments range from fines to bans and licence suspension. The British Horseracing Authority is also considering its position, and issued a statement saying it was ‘appalled’ by the photograph.

Inside the sport, some are making the distinction between the treatment and status of horses in different parts of the world. The gilded existence of the animals at some stables is not always replicated. 

In Ireland, it is argued, racing is steeped in farming traditions, with attendant attitudes towards life and death. Farm animals die without the grief afforded pets. If racehorses are an extension of farm animals, attitudes will be hardened.

Yet racing is not simply a country pursuit. It has a national following, and an emotional connection. Popular horses – Red Rum, Desert Orchid – are afforded human characteristics. Their deaths are mourned. 

Sentiment aside, it is important all horses are treated with kindness and an appreciation of their selfless qualities. Many will find the photograph of Elliott hugely offensive. Betfair have already dropped him as an ambassador.

Elliott led Tiger Roll (pictured after winning at Aintree in 2019) to successive National triumphs

And, no doubt, with the Cheltenham festival and the Grand National meeting coming up, we will hear much about animal welfare, perhaps in the face of fatalities. 

And we will be told, as always, that nobody cares for horses more than those involved in racing. 

Given, however, that Arab owners still support and participate in savage endurance contests in the Middle East, and a much-respected Grand National trainer thinks nothing of parking it for five minutes on a lifeless equine carcass, is it any wonder these mitigations are met with increasing scepticism?

If Elliott is at Cheltenham this year he is fortunate; and luckier still that no spectators will be present. It is unlikely such a lame explanation would be taken sitting down.

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