British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington is not anticipating any issues for Denise Foster-trained runners at next week’s Cheltenham Festival – although the regulator is still seeking to clarify conditions surrounding the transfer of Gordon Elliott’s string.
Foster, known on the Irish racing circuit as Sneezy, has taken charge of more than 200 horses – having previously trained just 10 winners in the preceding five years.
Elliott is currently banned for six months – with a further six suspended – following an image posted on social media which pictured him sat astride a dead horse.
With the Cheltenham Festival beginning on Tuesday, the BHA was pleased the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board handed out a swift punishment but is aware winners for the yard, which has been hugely successful at the meeting in recent years, will inevitably bring with them unwanted headlines.
“We want the coverage to be about the great stories and the great achievements of the horses – it is the shop window for our sport,” Harrington said, in a zoom call with members of the media.
“It’s an opportunity for us to really shine and tell the positive stories that are linked to our sport.
“We’re doing everything we can to support everyone to tell those stories. We hope the focus is on the horses.
“We’re not naive, though – we know people will have questions, but what we don’t want to do is detract from all the hard work that goes into preparing horses for the Festival. It would be such a shame for everybody who has worked all year to get those horses ready to not get the airtime that they deserve.”
Should a Foster-trained runner be successful next week – and with the likes of Zanahiyr, Grand Roi and The Bosses Oscar all favourites for their respective races, the likelihood is there will at least be one – then Harrington is well aware of the potential to overshadow the meeting.
“If Denise Foster has winners at the Festivals, the story being around the connections of that horse is what I hope is put forward,” added Harrington.
“We are really pleased that our colleagues in Ireland acted swiftly, so that this wasn’t hanging over us throughout the Festival.
“That’s not as simple as to say ‘let’s draw a line under it and move on’ – but the sanction is in place. Our temporary ban is lifted, because Mr Elliott’s ban is in place, and those horses are free to run for other trainers.
“In terms of any conditions to her licence, that is a matter for the IHRB. But I’m in contact with Denis Egan (chief executive) at the IHRB, understanding what those conditions are for the good reputation of racing in Ireland and Britain.
“We’re asking what conditions have been put in place. But that is a matter for the Irish – we’re currently seeking clarifications of what conditions are put in place. We’re assuming we’ll know before Cheltenham.
“It will be conditions to the licence rather than the sanction – that is where they will be applied. We’re asking for those but also making it clear what our views are on behalf of JCR (Jockey Club Racecourses) as well.
“We want to make sure that any horses attending are not clearly under the Gordon Elliott flag.
“I’ve made our views on it clear, and we’re waiting to hear what conditions will be applied to Denise. Then we will also be able to look, if we’re not happy, at what is available to us within our own rules.
“At this point we’re having really good discussions, so I’m not envisaging us getting to that point (preventing the horses running).”