Noise. Negativity. Anger. This week has been an uncomfortable roller coaster for all involved in the sport of horse racing. The photo which appeared on social media last weekend has been the topic of conversation not only in racing circles this week but it has been on all the main news channels and pages for the last number of days.
Everyone has their views on ‘that photo’ and the general consensus is that Gordon Elliott’s behaviour was totally unacceptable. My view is his behaviour in this photo is repulsive and inexcusable. However, the subsequent witch hunt that has followed has been equally, if not more repulsive in my opinion.
Envoi Allen and other superstars have left, I would imagine more will follow. The empire Gordon Elliott has built is collapsing around him. Whether this was a one off moment of madness or it was one of many incidences is anybody’s guess, the rumour mill will always be rife in times like these, especially when it’s a high profile individual, the old fashioned begrudgery is never too far away.
Every single person who is involved in racing should be an ambassador for the sport at all times. When a case like this raises its head it should be dealt with swiftly and an appropriate punishment should be handed out. My own personal opinion is Gordon should hand in his licence for 6 months, reflect, reassess and come back a better person for what must be a devastating experience.
I thought long and hard about doing this piece for a few days as there’s been so much written and said about it. I wasn’t sure there was any point in adding to the pile on however one question keeps coming back to me – who is attacking the sport of horse racing and why?
It’s no coincidence that this photo was released two weeks before Cheltenham. A few days later a horrific video appears of an amateur rider jumping onto the back of a dead horse. Why are these old photographs and videos appearing now? This is a calculated and deliberate attempt to destroy the sport and the individuals who are behind this know exactly what they are doing. I don’t believe it’s one individual, it’s a group with an agenda and participants in these shocking images have played straight into their hands. In football terms these have been dramatic own goals.
Racing is constantly fighting these image battles. It’s a sport an awful lot of people love to hate. Today, 16 stock brokers in Davey got their firm the largest ever fine for gross malpractice, yet I am sure they will all stay in their jobs on big salaries as society views them as ‘professionals’. Have you ever heard certain elements of the good and the great discussing people in betting shops? They look down their nose at them like they are beneath them. I’ve been a bookmaker all my adult life yet when I tell people that don’t know me what I do for a living their attitude towards me automatically changes. I think a prostitute would get a better reception than a bookmaker and I’m not trying to be funny when I say that. You should see what it’s like trying to get a mortgage when you tell the bank manager you’re a bookmaker. Society will judge before they even know the facts. They don’t see the human side. I’ve dealt with people with gambling problems, I’ve stopped them betting with me before the term self-exclusion became fashionable. I do it because deep down I don’t want anybody losing money they can’t afford to lose. I do it because it’s the correct thing to do. Punters are spoken about as if they are some sort of degenerates or that their recreational activity should be shunned. It’s a view held by many non-gamblers but it’s an incorrect view. Most people who gamble do so for a bit of fun. It’s their game of golf or cup of coffee, it’s their bit of time out. Show them some respect. I have dealt with thousands of gamblers over the years and the vast majority are the most honest, decent people I’ve ever had any dealings with.
Do non racing fans realise how hard breeders, jockeys, trainers, stud and stable staff etc. work? Its 24/7 and trust me for every Aidan O Brien or Willie Mullins, there is thousands who don’t reach the top and who would probably earn far more working in other careers. It’s certainly not all glamour.
I’ve lost mares on my farm down through the years for various reasons through illness, sudden cardiac arrest and leg breaks. I see them every single day first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I devote hours upon hours of my time to them and ensure they never want for anything. My farm isn’t as plush as Coolmore, it’s an ordinary run of the mill working farm, but my animals get no less attention. When an animal dies it’s not the financial loss that initially hurts, it’s the loss of an animal you have formed a bond with, an animal that has served you well and one that can’t be easily replaced. The image of their bodies getting brought away never gets any easier to deal with. The same goes for sheep and cattle. They aren’t pets, but they are part of my everyday life. This is the reality of owning animals that many don’t see. When people brand racing people as cruel to animals, they must realise that the vast majority of participants at all levels treat their animals better than they treat themselves. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the bunch.
I would challenge the faceless and spineless group that are attempting to ruin the sport of horse racing to think before they continue their agenda. The carnage they are causing is exactly what they crave and these unforgivable photos and images give them the ammunition they need. Racing will recover from it, it’s a great sport that I will defend until I take my last breath, but the people involved in it have got to realise the consequences of their actions.
Finally, a note on Gordon Elliott, as it’s the last time I intend commenting on it publicly. George Bernard Shaw once famously said ‘The man who has never made a mistake will never make anything else’. Gordon has made a huge mistake, one that will haunt him for a very long time but I hope he comes back from this. He may not be blessed with decorum because posing for that photo showed a real lack of it, but he has been blessed an extraordinary ability to train racehorses and I hope to see him back going toe to toe with Willie Mullins and co in the near future. He is too good not to. Sports fans love a good come back, without setbacks there can be no come backs. The name G.Elliott reappearing as a winning trainer at the Cheltenham festival at some point in the future would be the greatest comeback of them all.