Gordon Elliott - pointing the way to Dublin Racing Festival success

Cornelius Lysaght on the Gordon Elliott situation


Cornelius Lysaght reacts to the controversy involving Gordon Elliott in recent days and while there's justifiable anger, there's sadness too.

Gordon Elliott has spoken of the vast and hugely successful training operation that he has built up from scratch “crumbling” in front of his very eyes:

“It’s a scary place to be,” he said.

He should, of course, have thought of the consequences when incomprehensibly allowing ‘that photograph’ to be taken, and it’s no surprise that there is practically zero sympathy at the moment for him, nor for his jockey Rob James, whose filmed antics around a dead horse – on a separate occasion and, apparently, at different racing stables – have gone viral across the media.

Many are inconsolable at the sustained damage and the abject misery inflicted on those in and around horse racing who do care, a lot, something that was strikingly illustrated by eight-time champion jump jockey Peter Scudamore now, along with his partner Lucinda Russell, himself a trainer who fought back tears on a news programme when saying that he had “patted, and said sorry” [for what had happened] to the horses at their Scottish base.

But, for me, Elliott’s words, part of a rather more humble statement than his original reaction, also mean that the obvious emotions of appalled shock, disgust and betrayal that accompany this potential conclusion to his career are joined by an overwhelming sense of despairing sadness that one of sport’s, let alone racing’s, biggest success stories has come to this.

There is more than a touch of the ‘Greek Tragedy’ – defined in the Collins English Dictionary as a ‘play in which the protagonist, usually a person of importance…falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances’ – about it all.

The rise of the 43-year-old one-time amateur rider who, as the son of parents who “don’t have an acre of land”, had no racing connections, to previously unimagined glory at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals has been amongst the most compelling features of the decades of racing coverage in which I have been involved.

Success in the 2007 Grand National with Silver Birch, less than a year after taking out a licence and before ever saddling a winner at home in Ireland, seemed the perfect opening to a drama that would surely herald a glittering era.

Hundreds of winners followed, many with their jockeys riding in the maroon and white silks of aviation tycoon Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud ownership banner, including two more victories in the Aintree highlight, with the remarkable Tiger Roll, plus endless success at the Cheltenham Festival, where he and Irish rival Willie Mullins have vied for supremacy and taken their country’s challenge to new heights.

The stage seemed to be set for Elliott to follow some of jump racing’s greats by having a chapter in the history books all of his own.

Well, that is going to happen alright, but not quite as forecast.

Understandably some owners are now on the move eager to ensure their horses are able to race at the Cheltenham Festival from which Elliott runners are likely to be barred by the British Horseracing Authority in a welcomed and swift move; the already beleaguered Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board faces its biggest test deciding what to do, and after a series of criticisms it must pass in order to ensure its future.

Talking of the future, there has been some dark talk of an existential threat to horse racing in these islands because of the inexcusable welfare issues raised.

But whatever opponents, and circling cynics, say, the sport is clear that the horses are given five-star treatment.

Of course, as a fan, I am bound to say that, but high standards are demanded, regularly checked and achieved, and hopefully the outpourings of what can politely be called ‘indignation’ or perhaps more accurately ‘bloody fury’ this week will only serve to underline that.

I hope so.

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