Horror dead horse photo rocks racing
WARNING: Graphic image
Three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott has been banned from racing horses in Britain while authorities investigate a photograph of him chatting on the phone while sitting on a dead horse.
The 42-year-old Irishman, who trains two-time Aintree winner Tiger Roll, has apologised for the incident, saying he had acted without thinking.
Elliott, whose principal owner is Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary, issued a statement after the photo caused a furore on social media.
"I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused," he said. "The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops.
"At what was a sad time, which it is when any horse under my care passes away, my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned."
Elliott said he had waved away a member of his staff when it was pointed out he was sitting on the horse's body.
"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," he said.
"Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished."
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has launched an investigation.
The British Horseracing Authority said while Elliott was licensed in Ireland, it would prevent him entering horses in Britain.
O'Leary issued a statement saying it was a regrettable incident but that he accepted Elliott's "sincere and unreserved apology".
"We accept that the photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgment from Gordon," he said.
"We all make mistakes and what is important is that we learn from them and ensure we do not repeat them."
Elliott was set to send a strong team, including the O'Leary-owned Tiger Roll, to the Cheltenham Festival later this month.
Irish racing legend Mick Fitzgerald was reduced to tears as he delivered a moving speech about the photo.
Fitzgerald, a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner from Ireland, spoke of his shock and sadness during a touching Sky Sports Racing interview.
"My initial reaction to it was, 'I hope it's a fake'," the 50-year-old said. "I just thought it has to be a fake.
"When I read that statement I felt so sad. The number one thing we have to get out to everybody is how much we care about these horses.
"It's so important everybody knows that at the heart of this are people who love these animals.
"It's making me quite emotional because these horses have given me a life that I'm privileged to have.
"It just makes me feel really sad.
"I've been in situations where horses I have looked after or ridden have unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice.
"The care and attention they get to the very end - we have to emphasise that people know we care for these horses.
"We want to celebrate them and make them realise how much they are loved by everybody in the sport."
- with AFP, The Sun
Originally published as Horror dead horse photo rocks racing