After serving his six-month suspension from racing, Gordon Elliott is back in the winner’s circle.
The Irish trainer was banned after a photograph was leaked showing him sat astride a dead horse in his care – that came just days prior to the Cheltenham Festival, and saw a number of high-profile owners switch their horses to alternative yards.
Having served his time, Elliott has been back in action in his native Ireland, and after a few days of minimal returns he finally got a confidence-boosting victory courtesy of Fancy Foundations at Sligo on Wednesday.
The seven-year-old was running in a 2m 4f chase and looked to be out of it, but roared back into contention with a strong jump at the last – Denis O’Regan’s prompting from the saddle was enough to carry the horse to a four-length triumph.
“It’s great for his owners Andrew and Gemma Brown, who are big supporters of the yard,” Elliott said, in what was perhaps a thinly veiled dig at those who had deserted him back in the spring.
“I’m delighted to get my first winner back for them.”
Due to the ongoing rules over attendance at Irish racing events, only a handful of members and owners were present at the Sligo track to witness Elliott’s winning return. But onlookers noted that the trainer received a warm enough reception following his exile, and the Irishman was glad to be back.
“It just goes to show with this game, to see people clapping you back in and out afterwards,” he remarked.
“I’ve missed those people as much as they’ve missed me for the last six months. It’s brilliant for the staff who have worked hard.
“I’m looking forward to getting back training winners, repaying all my owners and staff who stuck by me.”
It’s fair to say that 2021 has been a year to forget for Elliott.
The picture, which was spread like wildfire on social media and reported in the news globally, could have ended his training career.
He was banned from training horses at the Cheltenham Festival, with Denise Foster taking over the reins at the Cullentra House yard. She returned three winners – down on the six Elliott had posted a year previous.
Of course, that situation wasn’t helped by the fact that many owners turned their back on the Irishman in the fall-out of that picture scandal. The likes of Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard were moved from Cullentra House by Cheveley Park in a major blow to Elliott’s fortunes.
And then a BBC Panorama documentary, investigating the treatment of ageing and/or dying horses, lifted the lid on the case of Vyta du Roc, who was slaughtered in an abattoir. While Elliott has not been held responsible individually, the horse’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have since parted company with him.
Whether Elliott is ever truly welcomed back by the racing community remains to be seen, although some have stood by him and they may yet reap the ultimate reward when the 2021/22 National Hunt campaign is in full swing.