I CAN’T tell you how proud I am to work in horse racing – but it’s been a rough week for the sport.
It’s hard to believe that anyone reading this isn’t aware of what I’m talking about.
But just in case you don’t, it was last Saturday that a picture emerged on social media of top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott – a man who has sent out Gold Cup winner Don Cossack and dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll – sitting on a dead horse with a big smile on his face while giving a two fingered peace or victory sign.
There is no defence. It was unacceptable. Unforgivable for some.
While I of course understand the upset caused, the reaction of hate and bile by some has been equally abhorrent. And the reaction of some in the general media – with no knowledge of reality – has been insulting.
It’s one thing making your distress loud and clear for all to hear and see. It’s another doing it in a way that means the commentator lacks all class and decency themselves.
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For an industry that sells itself – quite justifiably – to non-believers by emphasising the care and attention horses are given, it was a hammer blow. Probably the worst the Sport of Kings has had to endure in recent memory.
And in general terms it was a lesson for all of us to act in a decent manner, and prepare for the consequences if we don’t.
Added to that, a reminder that in the modern world very little is private. If you record something, whether it be in writing or on video, the chances are someone will get a copy.
The outcome of this sad saga is and will be depressing on so many levels.
First of all, for Elliott himself the image screamed at people that he had no respect or care for the horses he trains. That, of course, is far from the truth. But a picture speaks a thousand words.
Who can blame those that immediately felt anger, upset and outrage? No one. The full repercussions for Elliott have yet to be decided. But some ramifications came quickly.
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Leading owner Cheveley Park Stud immediately removed all of their horses, including the outstanding Envoi Allen, the hot favourite for the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival.
Betfair stopped its backing of Elliott’s yard, while the sponsorship of eCOMM Merchant Solutions was also removed.
Perhaps, though, the real catastrophe of this act of mindless and senseless stupidity will be felt by a sport constantly justifying its existence.
People in the UK are more and more detached from the countryside and therefore ‘horsey’ life. And younger generations are becoming more and more conscious and opinionated on the treatment of all animals.
The anti-racing brigade will be hard to silence on the back of this chaos.
Elliott faces a potential ban from horse racing[/caption]
Elliott faces further punishment from the powers that be. But if I’m honest there is now no ban or fine that could match either the personal trauma or the guilt that he will feel in terms of the misery he has forced upon his staff.
The latter have come out in force this week to support their boss, and it’s been a powerful message to watch Elliott’s employees – young and old, male and female, Irish and British – back their leader.
Those same staff members have been in floods of tears as they have come to terms with seeing their pride and joys leave the Elliott yard. It’s been horrible for everyone.
Many of you will have no sympathy whatsoever for Elliott. Indeed many of you reading this will say his behaviour was that of a mindless thug who deserves everything that comes his way. I get that.
There are some things in life, like serious crimes, that you cannot forgive. Elliott has not committed a serious criminal offence, but he will be haunted forever by his act of abhorrent stupidity.
I’m not a religious man in any way. But at this time words from the Bible can make much sense.
Matthew 6: 15 tells us: “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” In this case I think that applies.
Racing will have to be on the front foot more than ever. But as I have said I’m proud to be part of this game. And even though I’m an outsider in the sport, the care and attention I have witnessed by those in it for the horse has been truly heartwarming.
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