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Talking Horses: no one is likely to be satisfied once Elliott gets punishment

Greg Wood
·6 min read

Three members of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s referrals committee will convene at 9.30am on Friday to attempt what is, almost certainly, an impossible task.

Since Saturday morning untold millions in Ireland, Great Britain and around the world have seen the grotesque image of the trainer Gordon Elliott astride a dead horse on his gallops. It is the committee’s job to determine the extent to which his action, and the fact it was recorded and widely published more than a year later, was “prejudicial … to the good reputation of horse racing”. It then needs to impose a fair, proportionate punishment on one of the most famous and successful trainers in the sport.

Related: Talking Horses: Cheltenham clues emerge with weights for handicaps

The panel has no meaningful precedents on which it can draw as it considers its decision. Racing has not seen a “disrepute” case of anything like this magnitude in the social media age. The incident in 2017 when Davy Russell angrily punched his mount in the head before a race was minor by comparison in terms of its reach.

What the panel may recall, though, is that the initial wave of anger over Russell’s punch was magnified when the first hearing into the case decided a caution was sufficient punishment. A hasty rethink led to the penalty being upgraded to a four-day ban, amid complaints from the jockey about “unacceptable and disgraceful” media coverage.

The image of Elliott on the corpse of one of his horses provoked widespread revulsion both within and without racing, and the damage it has done to the “good reputation” of the sport is incalculable. On that basis it could be argued the penalty, too, should be of similar magnitude: a ban from the sport that would effectively spell the end of Elliott’s career.

A counter-argument is this would also threaten the livelihoods of dozens of stable staff at Elliott’s yard if he is driven out of business, penalising them all for his self-admitted “moment of madness”. The devastating effect of an extended ban on Elliott himself also needs to be acknowledged.

The ultimate problem for the panel, perhaps, is that a “disrepute” charge is not fit for purpose in an age in which such a shocking image can be seen by millions in a matter of hours, and then endlessly revived as a stick with which the sport can be beaten for ever more. If the overall damage cannot be effectively assessed, how can any penalty be proportionate?

Lingfield 12.30 Nick Vedder 1.00 Princess Animale 1.30 Muay Thai 2.00 Invincible Larne 2.35 Harlow 3.10 Kinderfrau 3.45 Murhib

Newbury 1.15 Herbiers 1.50 Eyes Right 2.25 Hoi Polloi 3.00 Defi Sacre 3.35 Roque It (nap) 4.10 Guernesey 4.40 Rose Ohara

Doncaster 2.15 Laskadine 2.50 Timberman 3.25 Zalvados (nb) 4.00 Fantastic Lady 4.30 One More Fleurie 5.05 Spanish Jump 5.35 Ozzy Thomas

Newcastle 5.15 Dirham Emirati 5.45 Accrington Stanley 6.15 Mondammej 6.45 Harswell Princess 7.15 Billy Wedge 7.45 Devil's Angel 8.15 Rockley Point

No one is likely to be satisfied by the outcome of the hearing on Friday. Not the casual browsers on social media who were shocked and repulsed to see a dead racehorse treated with such casual contempt. Nor the thousands of staff in racing stables, in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere, who care deeply for their horses, and could rightly add a deep sense of betrayal to their disgust at Elliott’s actions.

No penalty can adequately reflect – or undo – the damage that Elliott has done to the sport that made him. That is something that he, and everyone else who works in or follows racing, will have to live with once the decision has been handed down on Friday.

De Bromhead welcomes Envoi Allen

Henry de Bromhead’s team for the Cheltenham Festival was expected to be the strongest he had ever sent to the meeting even before Envoi Allen, Quilixios and Ballyadam joined his stable from Gordon Elliott earlier this week, and though Willie Mullins’s squad for this year’s meeting also looks stronger than ever, de Bromhead could well have a big say in the contest to be the meeting’s top rider.

“It’s obviously not the circumstances of how you’d like to get horses,” De Bromhead said on Thursday, “but these are the horses everyone’s trying to get and I feel fortunate that [their owner] Cheveley Park [Stud] have decided to send them to us. The three that are entered for Cheltenham include Envoi Allen [odds-on favourite for the Marsh Novice Chase] and he seems great.”

De Bromhead will saddle the likely favourite for the Champion Hurdle in Honeysuckle, and two serious contenders for the Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final afternoon in A Plus Tard (6-1) and Minella Indo (14-1). Rachael Blackmore, his stable jockey, will be aboard A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup, replacing Darragh O’Keeffe, who was in the saddle when A Plus Tard took the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.

Friday’s best bets

Paul Nicholls has started the month with five winners from 10 runners and Roque It (3.35) could be the pick of several decent chances for the trainer at Newbury.

Roque It showed plenty of promise in two starts before Christmas having returned from 20 months on the sidelines, and is very lightly-raced for a seven-year-old with only two previous starts over hurdles to his name. He ran well to finish a close sixth in a “jumpers bumper” last time and an opening mark of 121 may well underestimate him.

Defi Sacre (3.00) and Hoi Polloi (2.25) should both go well on the same card, and while Zalvados (3.25) was a surprise winner at Doncaster in January, the performance was backed up by a decent time and is fairly priced at around 5-1 to follow up.

Cheltenham Festival stat of the day, by Paul Ferguson

Six of the past 11 winners of the St James’s Palace Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (formerly the Foxhunters’) finished in the first five in the previous year’s race. Therefore, pay healthy respect to those who ran well in the race 12 months ago. Billaway and Staker Wallace finished second and fourth, respectively, behind It Came To Pass last year.

The Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2021, written by Paul Ferguson, was published on 26 February, priced £15.95. Talking Horses readers can obtain a £4 discount by using the promotion code ‘GDN21’ when placing an order.