Leading trainer Gordon Elliott has said he has "no complaints" after being given a one-year ban with half of it suspended over a picture of him sitting on a dead horse.
The image which emerged on social media last weekend caused huge public controversy and yesterday Elliott was found by an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) referrals committee to have damaged racing’s reputation.
The effective six-month suspension on Elliott will begin on Tuesday, a week before the start of the Cheltenham festival.
After a three-hour hearing at Naas racecourse, the 43-year-old trainer from Co Meath pledged to “never again disrespect a horse living or dead”.
He said: “I accept my situation and my sanction and am satisfied with my engagement with the IHRB. It is not an easy job to sit on the panel but I was dealt with fairly.
“I am in this situation by my own action and I am not going to dodge away from this.
“With my position in the sport I have great privileges and great responsibility. I did not live up to that responsibility.”
Elliott added: “I am paying a very heavy price for my error but I have no complaints. It breaks my heart to see the hurt I have caused to my colleagues, family, friends and supporters. I have a long road ahead of me but I will serve my time and then build back better.”
The three-person panel chaired by Mr Justice Raymond Groarke described the incident, which occurred in 2019, as "unforgiveable". Elliott was ordered to pay costs of €15,000.
The panel took into account the serious damage done to Elliott’s reputation, substantial economic loss and the departure of horses to be trained elsewhere.
Elliott, a triple Grand National-winning trainer, has lost of a number of major sponsorship deals and eight horses owned by Cheveley Park Stud, including unbeaten star Envoi Allen,were removed from his yard on Tuesday.
The panel also heard medical evidence of the effect of the controversy on his health.
It also concluded there was a “sinister” aspect to the case.
“The committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is a part of a concerted attack upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown.
“This has been canvassed not for the purpose of defence or absolution but in order to explain the publication at this time of a photograph which has existed since 2019,” the panel said in a statement.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Elliot’s behaviour was absolutely unacceptable and that the highest standards needed to be met in the horseracing industry in Ireland.
Speaking at Galway Racecourse in Ballybrit ahead of the ruling he said: “I think it has damaged the industry. That said, it is a very important industry and I think many, many people who work with horses are very offended by the incident as well.”
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of the sport's ruling body Horse Racing Ireland, said there were no winners in the matter. He also said the judgment indicated what would not be tolerated in Irish racing.
“People are able to separate an incident captured on a photo and the overall care and attention horses get within the industry every day of the week,” he said.