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If Irish racing does not come down like a bolt of pitiless lightning on Gordon Elliott, then the sport itself lies dead on the gallops

The image of trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse while on the phone

Roy Curtis

AS the scaffolding of his universe collapses like the stricken beast he violated, Gordon Elliott’s future suddenly appears as cold and hopeless as that ruined, empty-eyed creature.

If ever a photograph resembled an obituary for a man’s professional life this was it.

Gaping again at the excruciating image, a jolting realisation comes charging into focus like Elliott’s own invincible superstar, Envoi Allen, galloping up the Cheltenham hill.

It is this: If Irish racing does not comprehend the scale of the offence or both the public fury and existential threat that it has unleashed, if it does not come down like a bolt of pitiless lightning on the disgraced trainer, then Irish racing itself lies dead on the gallops.

A ticking time bomb will detonate no matter what misguided attempts are made to sweep it under the carpet.

Indeed, as another video surfaces this morning, one that purports to show a well-known jockey astride another breathless unfortunate, the sense is that the clock has already ticked down to zero.

And the suffocating, all-consuming mushroom cloud is rising into the sky above every race track on this island.

Elliott turns 43 today and anybody with a shred of humanity – while appalled at the pathologically cruel portrait of the trainer straddling a wasted animal – will feel a shudder of sadness when considering his changed circumstances.

King of the world one day, hurtling like an overwhelmed aircraft toward his doom the next.

But then that new damning video clatters into our conscious, pickpocketing any inclination toward sympathy.

In his interview with David Jennings published in today’s Racing Post, Elliott sounds authentically remorseful.

More than that, Gordon sounds frightened as the realisation dawns of all he stands to lose. His words palpitate with fear.

And yes, who among us has not, at some time or other, woke to the horrible realisation that we have done something unspeakably daft? Who, in those circumstances, would not offer every cent in their possession – and a thousand times as much – for the ability to turn back time?

Grand National Winner Tiger Roll with trainer Gordon Elliott and owner Michael O'Leary

It is in that awful space that Elliott now finds himself captive, with the multiplied discomfort of an appalled nation looking on, many revelling in his squirming hardship.

This is a terribly sad story. If it truly was a catastrophic mistake (and the jury remains out on that score), then anybody inclined towards triumphalism really ought to consider the brutal consequences rapping hard at the Meath man’s door.

If an aborted Cheltenham campaign for the Festival’s twice leading trainer will likely be the immediate punishment, the long-term reputational and career damage will endure many, many furlongs into a future that appears suddenly darker than a moonless night for the villain of the hour.

That photograph might as well be tattooed to Elliott’s forehead. It is the first thing that anybody who happens into his company will see.

Owners will walk, the corporate world – with Betfair yesterday leading the charge – will understandably flee, the close-knit, always wary racing community will recoil from yesterday’s superstar as if he is a mound of stinking horseshit. The greater public will wonder if this is a signpost of widespread barbarity.

Animal rights campaigners, many sincere, others the type incapable of regarding a human with any of the empathy they profess for four-legged critters, have been handed the megaphone they have long craved to amplify their disdain.

All it took to bring about that mind-blowing transformation in circumstances was a finger on a social media send button.

One foe determined to wreak terrible revenge for some real or imagined slight.

For what cannot be in any dispute is that what has been unspooling in recent days and weeks is a calculated and merciless campaign to take Elliot down.

Even before the damning 2019 freeze-frame of him reimagining the recently deceased seven-year-old, Morgan, as an armchair, other photos and videos and wild innuendo had been tossed like confetti into the public realm.

Make your own mind up on the integrity of the surreptitious character assassin.

If he or she is a facilitator, Elliott remains – indisputably – the author of his own downfall.

Gordon Elliot

The picture is indefensible, immoral, arrogant, cruel, boorish and vomit-inducing; a portrait that mocks all that is great and noble and beautiful about National Hunt racing.

Elliott’s risible statement poured an entire oil-well of paraffin onto the fire.

Who among us, if we had to take an urgent phone call while standing next to a dead animal, would not…?

Accidentally straddle that uninhabited and prone body, smirk in the direction of an individual snapping on their camera phone – they very fact somebody chose to record such a macabre scene speaks volumes - while raising a left hand in a victory/peace/give-me-two-minutes salute?

To maintain such a sequence of events explains the picture stretches credibility way beyond snapping point.

I fell in love with horse racing on a sweltering June Wednesday in 1977 when The Minstrel and Hot Grove, piloted by Lester Piggott and Willie Carson respectively, fought out a thrilling Epsom Derby finish.

Seduced by the rush of colour – Piggott, imperious in the driving finish, was uniformed in the famous green and blue Sangster colours - and the athletic grace of those gliding thoroughbreds, I fell head over heels in love.

I was seven years of age. And through all the beaten dockets, all the decades of growing, all the hooky stories, the passion for this thrilling concert of man and beast has never ebbed.

There is no sporting figure on earth I hold in higher esteem than Willie Mullins, that crucible of wisdom and decency and rare perspective, a horse-whisperer touched by genius and an unbreakable civility.

I cried when El Gran Senor lost the 1984 Derby to a manic, uncontainable Christy Roche aboard Secreto, not because of any financial interest, but because it felt like watching Pegasus’s wings being clipped, like a heavenly creature had lost its immunity to gravity.

Dawn Run, Hurricane Fly, Kauto Star, Istabraq, Vautour (a personal favourite) and Faugheen rate as high on my rollcall of immortals as Stephen Cluxton, Padraig Harrington or Michael Jordan.

Cheltenham looms like balm for the Lockdown soul. At least it did until these last turbulent 48 hours.

There were so many imminent Cotswolds riches to bring a rush to the blood: A potential Arkle duel for the ages between Shiskin and Energumene; Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish, in their distinctive pink and green Ricci silks, chasing a leasehold on greatness.

Rachel Blackmore and her wonderful mare Honeysuckle seeking to retrace the footsteps of Dawn Run and Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle; Al Boum Photo pursuing an immortal Gold Cup three-in-a-row.

Now, there is merely a sick feeling at the pith of the stomach.

Elliott, already with 32 Festival winners to his name, was due to step into the playhouse as a leading actor.

Sir Gerhard and Zanahiyr and the peerless Envoi Allen among those on the cusp of something unforgettable.

Next month’s Grand National was to be framed around the most high-profile resident of Elliott’s Cullentra stable. The narrative for the world’s most storied steeplechase centred on Tiger Roll seeking a historic milestone, something beyond even Red Rum: An Aintree three-in-a-row.

Now, the sad reality, is that a single universal reaction is inevitable when people who have their one bet of the year on National day, are reminded of the identity of the figure who guided the horse to those first two Liverpool victories.

They will not recall him as the brilliant upstart who first won the race as an unheralded 29-year-old with Silver Birch. Or that the same man has pushed out the boundaries of high achievement in his pursuit of Mullins.

No, they will conjure his name on their tongue for a distasteful moment until a flicker of recognition dawns: Is he the man who sat on a dead horse.

A ban for Elliott is inevitable and proper (a lifetime eviction from the sport, if unlikely, would not be the most outrageous chapter in this horror story) and if Michael O’Leary, his Gigginstown empire in rapid wind-down mode, has pledged his fealty, others will not be remotely as steadfast.

And who can blame them, for the overseer to whom they entrusted their animals, is now seriously shop-soiled goods.

His future is black but it is no beauty; the scale of the task to reclaim the equine summit on which he stood just last week is becoming more apparent by the hour.

The terrible truth for a pulverised Gordon Elliott is that such a mission appears as futile as flogging a dead horse.

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