Horse racing’s image received another grievous blow on Tuesday when an Irish jockey apologized after a widely circulated video emerged of him straddling the corpse of a horse which had just suffered a cardiac arrest.
Rob James’ apology came a day after the leading Irish trainer he rides for, Gordon Elliott, was banned from entering runners in British races after he admitted to posing for a photo while sitting on the back of a dead horse that had just died of a heart attack in a training run.
A hearing into the conduct of Elliott, one of the biggest names in British and Irish racing, will be heard on Friday by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, which is also investigating the incident involving James which he said took place in 2016.
James, an amateur jockey who won a race at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival last year aboard the Elliott-trained horse Milan Native, said his actions were “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful” and he was “heartbroken by the damage” he has caused.
“I sincerely apologize to the owners of the mare, the staff who cared for her, the horseracing industry and all followers of horse racing for my actions,” he told the Irish Field, a racing newspaper in Ireland.
“To try defending my stupidity at the time would add further insult and hurt to the many loyal people that have supported me during my career. I have caused embarrassment to my employers, my family and most importantly the sport I love.”
James said the horse in the video — a 5-year-old mare — had just suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during exercise. Others watched and laughed as James climbed onto the horse, and patted her as he got off.
The sport was already reeling from the anger caused by a picture of Elliott, who was seen posing for a photo with two fingers held out while he was on the phone.
Elliott said it was a “moment of madness” and accepted his actions were “indefensible.”
Figures from across racing have expressed their shock at the conduct of Elliott and James, while also attempting to stress they were exceptions to the rule.
“Shocking couple of days for the image of horse racing but as with most things, 0.01% of people can ruin (it) for the rest,” said Michael Owen, a former England soccer player who owns racehorses. “There are hundreds of thousands of people that literally worship their horses so this incident can’t possibly tarnish the rest of us.”
Elliott’s temporary suspension issued by the British Horseracing Authority comes two weeks before his biggest meeting of the year, the Cheltenham Festival, where he has been the leading trainer on two occasions.
That is followed by the Grand National at Aintree, where Elliott has been the winning trainer three times — including the two most recent editions of the race in 2018 and ’19 with Tiger Roll.
The horse was due to bid for an unprecedented third straight victory in the grueling steeplechase only for the race to be postponed last year amid the pandemic. Gigginstown Stud said on Tuesday that Tiger Roll would not be running in the 2021 race, scheduled for April 10, because of an “unfair weight burden.”
The Gigginstown operation stated before Elliott’s temporary ban was announced that Tiger Roll would not run if it was not happy with his weight.
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