A jockey who was exposed sitting on a dead horse the day after a trainer was caught doing the same apologised today and said ‘I am heartbroken by the damage I have caused’.
A video of Rob James, who won at Cheltenham Festival in 2020, showed him astride the animal in footage widely circulated on social media.
Incredibly it came just a day after Irish trainer Gordon Elliott was seen in a separate grotesque picture of him sitting on a different dead horse as he chatted on his mobile. He described its emergence as the moment ‘your world starts crumbling in front of you’.
The images have been condemned by the industry with Elliot temporarily banned from entering horses into British races and under investigation.
Royal Ascot and Classic-winning trainer Francis Graffard spoke of his disgust over the images.
He said: ‘Now that we know though, condemnation must come.
‘Without a responsibility to horses, and those who care for them, our industry makes no sense, and those emotions quickly become empty, the entertainment shallow and cruel.
‘Our industry is made up of so many good people who have done nothing to deserve the tarnish that comes with this. Think of them, those that ask to be proud of what they do and the industry they work in.’
A racing industry source, who asked not to be named, added to MailOnline: ‘This type of behaviour is not something that is happening widespread in horseracing, that is why everyone is so outraged about it.
‘It’s a sport where the horses are treated with utter respect, so these images are completely unrepresentative of the sport.
‘The kind of behaviour in those pictures is not a widespread problem and is completely at odds with how most people behave.’
A sickening video appears to show jockey Rob James posing astride a horse
George Elliott is being investigated by authorities after the image was posted on social media
James (fourth right, centre) seen celebrating winning Riders Handicap Chase at Cheltenham
The 43-year-old has trained 147 winners this season but is now unable to enter British races
James was scheduled to ride in the 5:20 at Gowran Park, County Kilkenny today but his horse Gentle Jolie, trained by Sean Thomas Doyle, is now listed as a non-runner.
He said this lunchtime: ‘I have become aware of a video circulating of me on social media. I would just like to apologise for my actions which were wholly inappropriate and disrespectful to a lovely five-year-old mare, who unfortunately suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while at exercise earlier that morning, April 30, 2016.
‘I sincerely apologise to the owners of the mare, the staff who cared for her, the horseracing industry and all followers of horseracing for my actions.’
He added: ‘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.
‘I am heartbroken by the damage I have caused and will do my best to try and make amends to those hurt by my conduct.’
It is not clear when the video is filmed but Jones is with at least two other people in the footage, with laughter heard as he poses as if he is riding the animal.
Last year at Cheltenham, James rode Milan Native, an Elliott horse, to win the Kim Muir for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown.
Irish amateur James also competed on Monday, riding the horse ‘King of Brazil’ in the Blackhills Flat Race, finishing in fifth, despite the storm surrounding the image of Elliott. King of Brazil is trained by Colin Bowe.
Elliott was banned on Monday from having runners in Britain while Irish authorities investigate the shocking picture of the trainer sitting on a dead horse while talking on his mobile phone.
The top trainer claimed in a statement that he took a phone call and sat down on the horse ‘without thinking’, adding the image was taken ‘some time ago’.
The dramatic banning of Elliott by the British Horseracing Authority throws a huge question mark over his entries at the Cheltenham Festival, which starts in two weeks.
They include his dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll and unbeaten Envoi Allen, hot favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.
The BHA described their decision as ‘proportionate in these circumstances’.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board have so far given no indication when a disciplinary hearing might be held as they continue their probe into the damaging image that was circulated widely on social media last weekend.
The BHA said in a statement: ‘The action taken by the BHA recognises that Mr Elliott is licensed in Ireland, whose regulatory body is carrying out its own investigation. However, Mr Elliott has entered horses to race in Britain, from which point the British Rules of Racing apply to him.
‘The decision to refuse to allow horses trained by Mr Elliott to run in Britain is therefore an interim decision which the BHA regards as proportionate in these circumstances.’
Onlookers can be heard laughing in the video as James appears to jumps on top of a grounded horse
James won at Cheltenham in 2020, riding Elliott-trained Milan Native to win the Kim Muir
The move heaps pressure on the IHRB to swiftly investigate the circumstances surrounding the picture and take action. Earlier on Monday, the BHA had said they were ‘appalled by the image’, adding: ‘We expect all those in our sport to demonstrate respect for horses wherever they have them in their care.
‘People who work in our industry believe their values of caring for and respecting our horses have been deeply undermined by this behaviour.
‘On their behalf, and on behalf of all horse-lovers, we say loudly that British horseracing finds this totally unacceptable.’
Speaking on Sunday, Elliott said the photo dated back to ‘some time ago’ and denied suggestions his actions had been ‘callous’, stressing that he was caught off-guard after receiving a phone call.
‘I would like to address the speculation and rumours that have been rife since an old photo of me began circulating on social media,’ he wrote in a statement.
‘Firstly, I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused and can categorically state that the welfare of each and every horse under my care is paramount and has been central to the success that we have enjoyed here at Cullentra.
‘The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops. I appreciate that an initial viewing of this photo suggests it is a callous and staged photo but nothing could be further from the truth.
On Sunday, Elliott said he sat on the horse ‘without thinking’ and was ‘gesturing to wait’
‘At what was a sad time, which it is when any horse under my care passes away, my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned.
‘I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which, to my memory I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.’
Elliott, who turned 43 on March 2, hit out at ‘falsehoods and misinformation’ around the picture on social media but said he put horse welfare first and would continue to co-operate with the investigation.
‘Such background information may seem trivial at this time and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing,’ he added.
Elliott’s stock has soared thanks to Tiger Roll’s successive victories in the Grand National
‘However, I feel it is important to provide people with some context surrounding this photo. To the racing community, to anyone who has worked with and loves horses and to anyone offended by this image I cannot apologise enough.
‘Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here and both myself and all of my team pride ourselves on those standards.
‘Again I apologise for any offence caused and ask people to consider this statement as opposed to the various falsehoods and misinformation being circulated on social media.’
On Monday, he showed more contrition in a damage-limitation interview, telling the Racing Post the incident was a ‘moment of madness that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life paying for and that my staff are suffering for’.
He added: ‘I will be punished, I fully understand that. But it absolutely breaks my heart to read and hear people say that I have no respect for my horses. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My whole life has revolved around horses since I was a child. Horses are all I have. I came from nothing and built a dream.
‘When your world starts crumbling in front of you, it’s a scary place to be. I just hope people can understand how truly sorry I am and find some way to forgive me.’
Meanwhile dual Grand National-winning and Cheltenham Festival record-breaking jockey Ruby Walsh has labelled the image ‘indefensible’.
Ruby Walsh (left) said the image of Elliott is ‘indefensible’ and mad his ‘angry’ and ’embarrased’
Speaking on RTE, Walsh said: ‘A picture paints a thousand words, but I think that picture only painted one – and that’s ‘indefensible.’
‘When I looked at it, I felt angry, I felt embarrassed for my sport and I felt very sad.
‘I was always taught that the duty of care to the animal is as much when it is dead as it is when it is alive – that is the way I was taught to conduct myself, and it’s the way I assumed most people within my sport would conduct themselves.’
GORDON ELLIOTT FACTFILE
Trains: County Meath
Best Irish season: 210 winners (2017-18)
Cheltenham Festival Winners: 32
Grand Nationals: 3x wins (Silver Birch – 2007, Tiger Roll – 2018, 2019)
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Don Cossack (2016)
Irish Gold Cup: Delta Work (2020)
Irish Champion Hurdle: Apple’s Jade (2019)