Gordon Elliott’s horses will be able to race at Cheltenham under new trainer

Trainer Denise Foster expected to take over the license at Elliott’s Co Meath yard

Cheltenham contenders currently under the care of Gordon Elliott will be able to line up at the festival despite the trainer being banned over the controversial photo of him sitting on a dead horse.

It is understood that steps are under way to have Denise Foster take over as licensed trainer at Elliott's Co Meath stables while he serves his suspension.

Elliott received a one-year ban at a Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) hearing held on Friday but with six months of that penalty suspended.

He was also ordered to pay the €15,000 costs after a Referrals panel chaired by Mr Justice Raymond Groarke found he had acted in a manner "prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing".

Elliott’s suspension will begin on Tuesday, a week before the start of Cheltenham where he would ordinarily have been able to look forward to over 50 runners.

He had already been banned on an interim basis by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) prior to Friday’s hearing and his suspension by the IHRB will be reciprocated by the cross-channel authorities.

However , the operation of Elliott’s Cullentra stables near Longwood is likely to continue and a source close to Elliott said on Friday evening: “The plan is a trainer will be put in place. We have a trainer in mind and that trainer gave evidence at the enquiry today.

“We will have a trainer in place who will have the licence and the horses returned in that trainer’s name. As a consequence hopefully the yard will continue to turn out runners.”

It is understood that Foster is in line to take over although it could be next week before that is formalised. No issue with that process is anticipated by racing officials here.

The BHA commented: “Today’s decision confirms that horses will not be able to run at the Cheltenham festival or Grand National festival in the name of Gordon Elliott.

“However if horses are transferred directly to other licensed trainers prior to March 9th – when the suspension is due to commence – they will be able to run.”

Elliott thanked his owners and staff after Friday’s hearing for their unstinting support and pledged to validate their faith in him in future.

The triple-Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer has been at the centre of a storm of controversy since an image emerged last weekend on social media of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops in 2019.

The Gigginstown Stud owned horse Morgan, had died from a heart aneurysm and Elliott was picture astride the animal and talking on a phone.

Earlier this week the trainer profoundly apologised for conduct that he told Friday’s panel was “disgraceful” and “horrific” as well as “wholly inappropriate and distasteful”.

The panel agreed that the picture showed “the most appalling bad taste” as it “demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the horse as a time when he still remains in his charge”.”

A three-hour hearing took place at Naas racecourse. Elliott was represented by senior counsel Martin Hayden who is closely linked to Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, owner of Gigginstown Stud, one of his main owners.

The panel said Elliott’s action had damaged the reputation of Irish racing and the thoroughbred industry.

They noted Elliott’s “genuine remorse” and they believe he “genuinely accepts that he was extraordinarily foolish” to participate in the photo the way he did. His actions were described as “unforgiveable and indefensible” as well as showing a “pointed absence of common sense”.

The panel, which also included Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan and Nick Wachman, said there was a "sinister" aspect to the case.

In a statement they said: “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.”

Sources close to Elliott suspect a “concerted effort over the last couple of weeks” to discredit the trainer.

It is understood that includes ambulance personnel and Gardai being called to Elliott’s home when there were no incidents there.

Elliott, through his senior counsel, thanked the IHRB for coming to a conclusion of the matter as swiftly as possible.

In a statement he also said: “Horses are my life. I love them. No one comes into racing for money. It is a hard way to make a living.

“We are here because we love the horses. Anyone who has visited my stables at Cullentra will see the meticulous care with which we treat our horses.

“I was disrespectful to a dead horse, an animal that had been a loyal servant to me and was loved by my staff. I will carry the burden of my transgressions for the rest of my career.

“I will never again disrespect a horse living or dead and I will not tolerate it in others.”