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racing shock WATCH: Emotional Mick Fitzgerald breaks down as Gordon Elliott is banned from racing

Image showed the trainer sitting on a dead horse while on his mobile phone

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Trainer Gordon Elliott is at the centre of a horse welfare scandal. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Trainer Gordon Elliott is at the centre of a horse welfare scandal. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Trainer Gordon Elliott is at the centre of a horse welfare scandal. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Racing legend Mick Fitzgerald could not hold back the tears as he tried to offer his views on the scandal that has engulfed trainer Gordon Elliott over a vile photo that appeared online.

While there were initial doubts about the authenticity of a photograph which was posted and widely shared on Saturday, Elliott confirmed in a statement late on Sunday evening that the image – which shows him sitting on a dead horse on the gallops – was in fact genuine.

Now the British Horseracing Authority have confirmed that Elliott will not be permitted to have runners in Britain until the conclusion of an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board investigation into an image on social media that showed the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse on his gallops.

Racing authorities in Britain and Ireland have condemned the image, which Elliott confirmed in a statement on Sunday evening was genuine, apologising “profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused”, while seeking to explain what he said was the context of events that led to the photograph.

That statement was hard for former jockey Fitzgerald to comprehend, as he gave an emotional interview to At The Races:

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has launched a full investigation, and a spokesman said on Monday that the matter will be dealt with “as quickly as possible”.

Through his Gigginstown operation, O’Leary has been one of Elliott’s biggest supporters – with the pair most notably combining to win two Randox Grand Nationals at Aintree with the hugely popular Tiger Roll.

In a statement issued on Monday, O’Leary – who together with Elliott also won the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup with Don Cossack – described the photograph in question as “unacceptable”, but said he accepted the trainer’s “sincere, profound and unreserved apology”.

The statement read: “Eddie (O’Leary, brother) and I were deeply disappointed by the unacceptable photo which appeared on social media over the weekend.

“The care and welfare of all our animals comes first with all our trainers. Sadly, from time to time, our horses suffer injuries and/or fatalities and we expect all such cases to be treated with the care and attention they deserve.

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Gordon Elliot

Gordon Elliot

Gordon Elliot

“We have always found that animal welfare comes first, second and third at Cullentra. From the facilities, to the brilliant team of people led by Gordon, our horses are trained with no expense spared for their development, welfare and care.

“We accept that this photograph was a grievous but momentary lapse of judgement by Gordon, and not in keeping with our 15-year experience of his concern for and attention to the welfare of our horses.

“We all make mistakes, and what is important is that we learn from them and ensure we do not repeat them.

“We accept Gordon’s sincere, profound and unreserved apology and we will continue to support him and his team at Cullentra, as they work to recover from this deeply regrettable incident.”

Cheveley Park Stud will await the outcome of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board investigation before making any decisions on the future of the several high-profile horses they have in training with Elliott.

The hugely successful breeders and owners, more renowned for their success on the Flat, have ramped up their interest in National Hunt racing in recent years and have already enjoyed multiple big-race winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

The most notable is Envoi Allen, arguably the most exciting horse in Elliott’s yard following back-to-back Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in his unbeaten career to date.

The seven-year-old is a hot favourite to win at Cheltenham for a third time in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on March 18.

Cheveley Park released a statement in which they said they were “horrified” and dismayed” by the image.

The statement read: “We are truly horrified and dismayed by the photograph doing the rounds on social media. However, we will await the official outcome of the investigation by the IHRB, which we trust will be swift, before making any further comment/decisions.”

Other horses Cheveley Park currently have in training with Elliott include Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Ballyadam, unbeaten juvenile hurdler Quilixios and leading Champion Bumper contender Sir Gerhard.

Horse Racing Ireland have also issued a statement that read: "Horse Racing Ireland unreservedly condemns the disturbing photograph that appeared on social media at the weekend.

"This image does not reflect the care, attention and respect that race horses receive, and does a disservice to the thousands of people who look after their horses on a daily basis. Horse Racing Ireland notes and supports the IHRB investigation into the circumstances around the photograph.

"From a disciplinary perspective, the matter is in process, so any further comment on the matter or the detail of the case at this time would not be appropriate."

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