Gordon Elliott suspension leaves Denise Foster in line for Cheltenham glory
Veteran Co Meath trainer will take over at Cullentra stables on Monday morning
Jack Kennedy on Zanahiyr wins The Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Catapulted into the spotlight on the back of Gordon Elliott’s suspension, Denise Foster is a 10-1 shot to be top trainer at next week’s Cheltenham festival.
Foster is set to take over the reins at Cullentra stables on Monday, a day before Elliott’s six month suspension for damaging the reputation of racing begins.
On Friday Elliott had his licence withdrawn for a year – with half of it suspended – after a controversial image of him sitting on a dead horse emerged last weekend.
It was quickly confirmed that his fellow Co Meath trainer, Foster, will move her own small string the short distance from Enfield to Cullenatra near Longwood and take over the running of the stables.
Foster, 67, and widely known as ‘Sneezy,’ has trained less than 50 winners since taking out her licence over 20 years ago.
Now she has the prospect of being in charge of one of the strongest teams of Irish runners at jump racing’s biggest meeting of the year.
Despite Cheveley Park Stud removing their horses from Elliott, including the unbeaten star Envoi Allen, Cullentra still houses stars such as Tiger Roll and the Triumph Hurdle favourite Zanahiyr.
The latter’s owners, Noel and Valerie Moran, withdrew sponsorship from Elliott last week on the back of the controversial photo.
However they have indicated they will keep their large string of horses under Foster’s care.
“I am delighted by the contacts I have had with the owners and staff to date. This is a great responsibility but I could not ask for a better set up. I will take charge from Monday,” Foster said in a statement confirming her switch.
Twice leading trainer at the Cheltenham festival in the past, Elliott had been second-favourite to do the same next week behind Willie Mullins.
Bookmakers have moved to change their betting on the leading trainer award but the strength in depth of the string she is taking over means Foster is still as low as 10-1 to secure an unlikely prize.
An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board spokesman said on Sunday that the official operation of a trainer switching premises will be undertaken as normal.
“The licensing committee (of the IHRB) needs to be informed. It is generally not a lengthy process,” he said.
The British Horseracing Authority said after Friday’s verdict that horses in Elliott’s yard, but returned under a different licence holder, will be able to run at the Cheltenham festival.
There was no comment on the matter from the BHA on Sunday ahead of any IHRB licensing decision.
However, it is understood once the paperwork is completed there should be no obstruction to Foster’s name being next to Cullentra’s prime festival contenders.
A Garda investigation is continuing into claims made by sources close to Elliott of a “concerted effort over the last couple of weeks” to discredit the trainer.
“He (Elliott) has given a statement to Gardai and they are investigating it,” a spokesman for Elliott confirmed on Sunday.
In handing out their verdict on Friday, an IHRB Referrals Committee chaired by Mr Justice Raymond Groarke said there was a “sinister” aspect to the case.
“The Committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is 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 of absolution but in order to explain the publication at this time of a photograph which has existed since 2019,” the Referrals panel outlined.
Asked if racing’s regulator was pursuing any investigations of their own, a spokesman said on Sunday: “The IHRB investigation concluded prior to Friday’s hearing. Should we be made aware of any further evidence relating to this case we will investigate it.”
Elliott has the final runners under his name until at least September at Monday’s meeting in Leopardstown. He has declared six horses to run at the fixture.
Elliott’s licence to train has been suspended although that doesn’t prevent him from working and living on his premises.
However, at Friday’s hearing he said he will not attend a race meeting or a point to point for six months, a move the committee accepted as a “helpful course.”