Respected Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Henrietta Knight believes trainer Gordon Elliott will be able to rebuild his career after he serves his suspension for the picture of him sitting on a dead horse which emerged last weekend.
Knight acted as a character witness for Elliott via video link at Friday’s Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board hearing, which imposed a year suspension with six months suspended for an action which had ‘damaged the reputation of the Irish racing industry and the thoroughbred industry’.
Knight, who trained three-time Gold Cup winner Best Mate with her late husband Terry Biddlecombe, described the penalty as fair but said the picture painted of Elliott was not one she recognised.
Irish racehorse trainer Gordon Elliott was banned for a year after this shocking photograph
The 43-year-old ‘damaged the reputation of the Irish racing industry,’ according to the IHRB
Her comments came as it was confirmed that 67-year-old trainer Denise Foster, who is based close to Elliott’s County Meath base, will take over the licence at his Cullentra House stable while he serves his suspension.
Her presence at the helm will allow owners in the yard to keep having runners, with the Cheltenham Festival due to start a week on Tuesday.
Knight said: ‘Gordon will definitely be able to rebuild his career and that his owners will stand by him. He could still end up being champion trainer one day.
‘The suspension will hit him but it is a fair penalty. I have spoken to him throughout the week and he has had a lot of abuse thrown at him. He needs his friends now and support. I know him very well from being at his yard numerous times in the last five years.
Three-time Grand National-winning trainer Elliott was fined the equivalent of £13,000
Many of Elliott’s stable stars, including the well-known Tiger Roll, have remained at his stable
‘I have stayed there and know the place very well. The picture is not the Gordon I know at all. He loves his horses and is very much involved with every one of them. He knows them all individually. It was a moment of madness. He has not killed a horse or killed a person but it is the perception of the picture.’
Knight’s book, The Jumping Game, published in 2018, chronicled her observations in leading jump stables in Britain and Ireland and she said none rated higher than Elliott’s in her view.
Knight added: ‘I strongly believe this. I am very concerned about animal welfare. When I go into a yard I always notice how horses are treated. All the improvements to his yard are designed to help the horse and the way his staff look after them is also outstanding.
However respected trainer Henrietta Knight (above) believes he can rebuild his career
‘The horses in his stable are happy horses. On a racecourse there are probably no horses in better condition than his. You can pick a Gordon Elliott horse out just walking around the paddock.’
The storm surrounding the image of Elliott sitting on the dead body of the gelding Morgan has caused huge damage to his and the sport’s reputation. Fears that his business, which employs around 80 staff, could also crumble have so far proved unfounded,
The trainer suffered a bitter blow when losing eight horses owned by the Cheveley Park Stud on Tuesday, including unbeaten star novice chaser Envoi Allen, but his other owners, headed by the Gigginstown Stud of Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, largely appear to be standing by him.
Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster (right) is set to take over the licence at Cullentra House stables
Denise Foster on taking over Elliott’s stables
‘It’s daunting, but exciting,’ Foster told the Racing Post. ‘I’ve known Gordon for a long time and I already know a lot of his staff.
‘I only live up the road so it just feels right. There has been huge support of these plans from his owners which is very encouraging.’
Knight manages the horses of owner Mike Grech, who she said would continue to have a horse in the stable. Moreover, it has been confirmed Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, whose colours are familiar either side of the Irish Sea, will be leaving their two horses, including Cheltenham Festival entry Saint D’oroux, at Cullentra House.
Escaria Ten, who is set to run in either the Ultima Handicap Chase or the National Hunt Chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, will also be left in the stable by owner Max McNeill.
His racing manager Iain Turner said: ‘We have discussed little else all week but our belief is that if we were to move the horse now, we wouldn’t be punishing Gordon because he has been suspended. We would be punishing the staff who have worked so hard all season and are the innocent parties in this.’
Elliott has been suspended rather than being declared a disqualified person, meaning he is still allowed on to licenced premises. He is allowed to remain living at his house at his stable but he gave the IHRB an assurance that he would not attend a race meeting or point-to-point during the six months of his suspension.
That will not satisfy everyone and lead some to believe Foster is merely a flag of convenience, even though she has said that she is transferring her string to the yard. Foster is a popular and respected member of the Irish training community and is seen as a safe pair of hands to help steer the operation out of the crisis.
Foster is set to have plenty of runners in her name at the Cheltenham Festival but she will not be there as it is too late to complete the Covid-related paperwork.
In profile: Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster
Highly regarded, respected and popular in the horse racing community, Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster is seen as the ideal person to hold the reins at Elliott’s Cullentra House stable in County Meath while he serves his suspension.
Foster trains a handful of horses at Possextown near Enfield, a short distance from Elliott’s base, with her owners including JP McManus.
A former riding instructor, she worked with show jumpers in Ireland and Belgium earlier in her life.
She was married to leading eventer David Foster, who competed in three Olympics before suffering a fatal accident while competing in 1998. Foster suffered further personal tragedy with the death of her daughter Lucy, the wife of Irish trainer Fozzy Stack, in 2014 aged 27.
Foster initially began training solely over jumps but she started training on the Flat as well in 2011 and enjoyed her biggest win when Lily’s Rainbow won the Listed Heritage Stakes at Navan in April 2016.