Grand National-winning jockey Mick Fitzgerald has spoken of his shock and sadness after discovering the image of trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse was genuine.
Fitzgerald, a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner too in his distinguished riding career, initially thought and hoped the photograph on Elliott’s gallops was a fake.
The hugely successful Irish trainer, however, confirmed that is not the case in a statement on Sunday night – having already announced he will be “cooperating fully” with an ongoing investigation into the incident by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
Fitzgerald told Sky Sports Racing: “When I read that statement, I can’t help but feel anything else but so sad.
“The number one thing we have to get out to everybody is how much we care about these horses.
“It is so important that everybody who is watching this channel, who has any interest at all in our sport, knows that at the heart of this are people who love these animals.”
Fitzgerald spoke personally, and also on the wider topic of the public’s perception of racing.
He said: “My initial reaction to it was ‘I hope it’s a fake’. That was what I thought – ‘it has to be fake’.
“It’s making me quite emotional, because these horses have given me a life that I’m privileged to have, and it just makes me feel so sad.
“I’ve been in situations where horses that I have looked after and ridden have unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice in our sport, and the care and attention they get right to the end – we have to emphasise to everyone watching that people care for these horses.
“We want to celebrate them (horses) and make them realise how much we care for them and how much they are loved by everybody in the sport.
“Anyone watching has to realise that we have nothing but the interests of these animals at heart.”