Ruby Walsh on Gordon Elliott: A verdict of this magnitude was required

I firmly believe neither image portrays the mindset of the horse racing world, a world where the welfare of the animals is to the forefront of people’s minds
Ruby Walsh on Gordon Elliott: A verdict of this magnitude was required

PAYING A PRICE: A six-month suspension means Gordon Elliott will miss the big spring festivals to add to the financial blow of losing sponsors and the Cheveley Park horses. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Sometimes  I wonder, on a Wednesday morning, if I will have the material to fill an article for Saturday’s paper, but by last Wednesday I had enough to write four chapters of a book.

I say four because there are at least four different stances or viewpoints anyone could take on the whole saga of the Gordon Elliott photo and the Rob James video that appeared on the internet through social media platforms in the past week.

Today, Gordon stood before the referrals committee of the IHRB to face a charge of acting in a manner prejudicial to the good image of Irish racing.

Many felt before this hearing began that the loss of clients like Cheveley Park and the withdrawal of sponsorship deals by eComm Merchant Solutions and Betfair was penalty enough, while others wanted a disqualification of his licence and some suggested a hefty fine to be paid to an animal welfare charity.

But the IHRB, who have the responsibility for the integrity and image of Irish horse racing, were the ones entrusted with the task of deciding what, if any sanction, should be imposed.

The IHRB referrals hearing got under way at 9.30am with certain quarters moaning at the fact it had taken six days for the referrals committee to convene. However, in the interest of fairness and common sense, this was a pretty quick turnaround if you consider how long it would take to hear any case in our judicial system.

At roughly 5.30pm their findings were relayed to us and the news that Gordon Elliott had been suspended for a six-month period, to begin next Tuesday, March 9, with a further six-month ban suspended was revealed.

Some will now say that is harsh and more will argue its lenient, but Gordon Elliott finds it fair. The suspension begins by agreement next Tuesday and he has confirmed he has no intention of exercising his right of appeal and is taking this on chin in an attempt to move forward.

A six-month suspension means Gordon will miss the Cheltenham, Aintree, Fairyhouse, Punchestown, and Galway festivals to add to the financial blow of losing sponsors and the Cheveley Park horses.

A current licensed trainer will most likely take over at his Cullentra base, which is a possible saviour for 80 or so employees, and Gordon will not be allowed to attend race meetings.

Gordon has unequivocally apologised for his behaviour, describing his actions as a moment of madness and a huge mistake which he is undoubtedly paying for financially and reputationally.

But his actions also had an impact on the image of the whole sport and wider industry, and so a finding of this magnitude was required as a first step to regain public faith.

Unfortunately for him and for Rob James, who has yet to face his disciplinary enquiry, the world is now a very small place and, like always, bad news seems to travel faster than good.

The image of Gordon sitting astride Morgan went viral and everybody had an opinion. I described it last Monday whilst working on 2FM as “indefensible”, a word Gordon himself used later that evening and one that explains it in a nutshell.

I also said I was embarrassed for my sport. And I was, as well as being sad because of all the deceased horses I have seen — it is a sight that will always make me sad.

I firmly believe neither image portrays the mindset of the horse racing world, a world where the welfare of the animals is to the forefront of people’s minds. But nor did the images show any acts of cruelty. That is not just my opinion but also the official finding of Trim Gardaí in the Gordon Elliott case.

Both horses had sadly died in a natural way prior to the wrong photo or filming opportunities being availed of.

What they portrayed were acts of disrespect, and that resonates with everyone when you think logically about it.

We will all defend our loved ones if somebody speaks poorly of them but speaking ill of a deceased loved one will bring about rage. Why we have those emotions? I don’t really know, but we do.

Whatever way you look at these images — through eyes of anger, pity, sorrow or forgiveness — there isn’t really any conclusion you can come to other than that it reflects poorly on the industry.

Thankfully, we live in a democracy so when we make mistakes we are entitled to a fair and honest hearing. We are also entitled to appeal that judgement but more importantly we are all entitled to a second chance.

What nobody deserves is to be vilified by social media. But sadly, that’s a world everyone who uses those platforms facilitates.

The keyboard warriors are most likely in full flow, but interestingly the referrals committee also accepted that a sinister campaign to tarnish Gordon’s reputation was also at play. That doesn’t excuse his action but fully justifies a decision I made many years ago.

It is six years since I have partaken in the Twitter world, an environment I found to be extremely hostile and, like it or not, one where logic and level judgement of anyone’s actions will always be a distant second.

Nameless and faceless accounts, many run by computerised bots, can fuel any fire they wish and provoke outrage that is far beyond normal assessment of any situation.

Vicious and vile comments roll off keyboards so easily compared to the tongue of someone who is making eye contact with their target and the deep hurt caused by those insults is never felt by those making them.

I can relate to that abuse.

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