Robin Oakley

The true cost of Gordon Elliott’s crass stupidity

His ill-judged act was a gift to horse racing’s opponents

Trainer Gordon Elliott, who was pictured making a phone call while sitting on the dead body of horse Morgan [Getty Images/Alan Crowhurst/Stringer]

Thanks to Covid, there could be no spine-tingling roar at the Cheltenham Festival this year as the first race runners set off, no exultant crowds lining the rails from the finish to the winners’ enclosure to cheer their sweaty heroes. Twitchy racing officials will have watched with their gaze half averted for fear that equine fatalities or excessive whip use by jockeys desperate to extract the last ounce of effort from their mounts will have swelled the chorus of the sport’s opponents and would-be eradicators. Publishing schedules mean that I must write before a Festival race is run, but I have no doubt that the week will have been dominated in many minds by the Man Who Wasn’t There.

It would be difficult to overstate the harm done to the sport by the photo circulated on social media of Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliott making a phone call while sitting on the body of the seven-year-old Morgan after the horse died of a heart attack on his Cullentra Stables gallops. It was an act of utterly callous stupidity. Elliott rapidly admitted that he had let down the whole racing industry and that ‘whether dead or alive, the horse was entitled to dignity’.

It is difficult to overstate the harm done to the sport by the crassly insensitive photo of Gordon Elliott

But his is not a shoestring six-horse yard on the fringes. Just coming into his prime at 43, Elliott is already at the pinnacle of his sport: his 1,838 winners include three victories in the Grand National, two of them with Tiger Roll, the best-known horse in training. He has won a Cheltenham Gold Cup and been champion trainer at the Cheltenham Festival and what is so damaging about what Elliott is now himself calling ‘an indefensible… moment of madness’ is that he has undermined the argument that nearly all of us in racing use to justify our sport: that the animals whom we ask to race for our entertainment, with the risk that a few will pay the ultimate penalty of death, will along the way live a life of comparative equine luxury surrounded by love and given true respect.

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