Gordon Elliott has already begun to pay the price of the ill-judged and inexcusable image of him astride a dead horse on his gallops as leading owner Cheveley Park Stud has removed its eight horses from under his care.
In a stable of hundreds of horses, the number is small, but the quality considerable. The team, which includes Marsh Novices’ Chase favourite Envoi Allen and other leading Cheltenham Festival fancies Quilixios, Ballyadam, and Sir Gerhard, have been split between Henry De Bromhead and Willie Mullins, both of whom have already provided Cheltenham Festival success for the owners.
The Newmarket stud had initially stated that it would await the official outcome of the investigation by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) before making any decisions, but with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) moving to impose an immediate ban on Elliott having runners in Britain, pending that investigation, the hastening of this move has come as no surprise.
Having stated that they were “truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph,” it was inevitable, but nonetheless it a huge blow to Elliott and his team.
Explaining the decision, Chris Richardson, managing director or Cheveley Stud Park, said: “We had to consider what was happening (on Monday) with the building story and the backdrop of Cheveley’s reputation — in terms of maybe the most important British-owned racing and breeding operation in the UK.”
He added: “We had to look at the situation in context of where Cheveley sit in the industry and our responsibility to the industry in Britain.
“It’s obviously very disappointing and extremely upsetting for the industry.
“People love horses and we, as a family, purchased Cheveley Park in 1975, so we’ve been racing and breeding for coming up to 46 years.
“I don’t know what the implications are longer term — I’m not close enough to the centre of the politics of racing and how it works between Britain and Ireland.
“All I know is, with my Cheveley Park Stud hat on, we had to take a decision as a board of directors to disassociate ourselves with Gordon at this time and do the right thing by the stud and by the industry.”
Richardson would not be drawn on whether the association with Elliott could be renewed at any time in the future.
“I’m not going to make a comment about long-term, but certainly in the short to medium term these horses will stay with Henry and Willie,” he added.
Envoi Allen, who will be the mount of Jack Kennedy and, on his return from injury, Davy Russell, has joined De Bromhead, as have Malone Road, Ballyadam, Quilixios, and Guily Billy.
Mullins’ grip on the Champion Bumper was strengthened by the addition of the unbeaten Sir Gerhard to his yard, while Grangeclare West and Classic Getaway also headed to Closutton.
The last two named may not be familiar to racing supporters as they have not yet raced on the track. However, both made a winning start in the point-to-point fields and were subsequently purchased by Cheveley Park for a combined price of £1m (€1.1m).
For British owners of this magnitude, whose considerable investment in National Hunt stock can only be repaid, in kind, by success at the top festivals, such as Cheltenham and Aintree, it is far from an ideal preparation for their horses to be moving stables at this stage of the season.
It is a thoroughly regrettable situation as it cannot be denied that Elliott has done a wonderful job with these horses and he and Cheveley Park have enjoyed great success together.
It is testament to the trainer’s ability that, in a relatively short space of time, he has built his operation to a level which has encouraged the likes of Cheveley Park to invest in that success through ownership in the yard.
It was, and continues to be, a coup to be part of their roster, and Elliott knows as well as anyone that supporters of their esteem and financial clout are difficult to come by.
Fortunately, his success has attracted some other powerful players in the sport, and they remain behind him, although the result of Friday’s investigation by the Referrals Committee of the IHRB is of huge importance to everyone involved with the stable.
Depending upon the severity of the sanctions, the pressure on those owners could build. Until such time as the full extent of the punishment is known, it is difficult for Elliott to make plans on how to rebuild confidence in his operation.
Meanwhile, the Irish Racehorse Trainers’ Association, of which Elliott is a member, condemned the image, but also acknowledged his apology and recognised “what is a very difficult time for him both professionally and personally".