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Brennan's Brief How horse racing is in danger of toppling over in the wake of Gordon Elliott controversy

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Gordon Elliott Yard Visit...19 February 2019; Trainer Gordon Elliott during a Gordon Elliott yard visit at Gordon Elliott Racing in Longwood, Co Meath. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile...ABT

Gordon Elliott Yard Visit...19 February 2019; Trainer Gordon Elliott during a Gordon Elliott yard visit at Gordon Elliott Racing in Longwood, Co Meath. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile...ABT

Gordon Elliott Yard Visit...19 February 2019; Trainer Gordon Elliott during a Gordon Elliott yard visit at Gordon Elliott Racing in Longwood, Co Meath. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile...ABT

It ought to be a wonderful time in Irish horse racing. Cheltenham is less than a fortnight away – Irish horses are favourites for 16 of the 28 races at the Festival, and you might be able to add in six more once the handicap marks for our horses are announced later today.

Aintree, and the Grand National, the one day and the one race which sees everyone takes an interest in horse racing, is barely a month away.

Instead the sport is on the backfoot today, and indeed in danger of toppling over, in the wake of the publication of two dreadful photographs involving trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Rob James. There are other photographs in circulation which do not reflect well on horse racing either, one showing well known racing figures at a party where social distancing is not being observed, to say the very least.

We in Ireland love horses. Most people have a farm somewhere in their background. It may have been Grandad’s, it may still be in the hands of distant cousins in a far part of the country from the city or big town where you live. But the farm, and the horses, and the cows, and the sheep, and all the rest of it is there and you have visited at some point of your life.

The issue with all of this is Britain. Gordon Elliott will face a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday and will be dealt with according to Irish rules, but it is to the court of public opinion in Britain that Elliott will have to answer.

My colleague Dave Yates of the Daily Mirror put it best last Monday when he wrote, “horse racing exists in Britain because of an unwritten licence given to it by the British people that those involved in the sport will do their best by the animals in their care.”

The vast majority with animals in their care, in Ireland and Britain, do their level best and go beyond that at times in their love for the horses they own or mind. Gordon Elliott let them down very badly in that two-year-old photograph.

Britain is so industrialised and urbanised that it is not unknown for someone to go a lifetime without ever seeing a horse in the flesh. The only time they might ever see a cow or a sheep is while they speed past a field on a train or as a passenger in a car on a motorway.

Many Brits do not know the ways of the country and they do not like the idea of anyone using animals for sport in any way. Thus foxhunting is banned, so is coursing, while the sport of greyhound racing is on its knees as builders voraciously mop up greyhound stadia to meet their country’s insatiable demand for housing or, given that they greyhound tracks already have plenty of car parking, supermarkets.

People close to horse racing in Britain say that a ban on the use of the whip, to encourage a horse, is as little as five years away.

They say also that it may only be two decades or so before Britain follows America and Australia in being almost exclusively flat racing, with the jumps action being a circus-act add-on about ten times a year.

That is where Gordon Elliott is today, ready, as he said himself, to spend a lifetime regretting and apologising for one moment of madness.

Regardless of what punishment comes his way in Ireland, he may never again be able to race horses in Britain, at the very least not for a long, long time to come. And that, for r an Irish jumps trainer, is the end of the line.

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