IRISH RACEHORSE trainer Gordon Elliott has issued an apology after a photograph surfaced on social media of him sitting on a dead horse.
In a statement, Elliott claimed that the picture came about after he took a phone call while trying to move the deceased animal and sat down on the horse “without thinking”.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) has now launched an investigation in the photo while Betfair, who Elliott previously served as an ambassador for, has severed its ties with the Meath-based trainer.
A highly successful trainer, the 43-year-old is best known for winning the Grand National three times, including twice with Tiger Roll.
"I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused," he said in the statement.
"I can categorically state that the welfare of each and every horse under my care is paramount and has been central to the success that we have enjoyed," Elliott continued.
"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.
"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. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.
"Such background information may seem trivial at this time and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing."
“Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here and both myself and all of my team pride ourselves on those standards,” he added.
“Again I apologise for any offence caused and ask people to consider this statement as opposed to the various falsehoods and misinformation being circulated on social media. At this time I would like to stress that I continue to extend my full cooperation with the ongoing IHRB investigation.”
Despite issuing the apology, Elliott is facing an uncertain future in horse racing as a result of the image.
Commenting on the decision to end its working relationship with the trainer, a Betfair spokesperson said: "While we recognise that Gordon deeply regrets and apologised unreservedly for his poor judgement his actions are completely at odds with the values of the Betfair brand and that of our employees."
"With that in mind, we have decided to discontinue our association with Gordon with immediate effect."
An IHRB spokesperson had confirmed that the investigation “is ongoing and will be dealt with as quickly as possible” while the British Horseracing Authority is aware of the "shocking image" and in contact with its Irish counterparts.
Elliott's licence could be suspended or revoked over the incident in a development that would see a new trainer required to take responsibility for the horses at his County Meath stable, more than 100 set to take part in Cheltenham festival later this month.
The image has drawn strong criticism from several leading animal charities, including World Horse Welfare who described it as “abhorrent”.