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Elliott loses yard sponsor

Prominent owners Noel and Valerie Moran’s company eCOMM Merchant Solutions has terminated its contract as Gordon Elliott’s yard sponsor.

The Morans, founders of eCOMM, also have a powerful string at Elliott’s County Meath stables – including JCB Triumph Hurdle market leader Zanahiyr.

It was confirmed on Tuesday night that the company’s sponsorship association with Elliott has ended.

The statement cited the reason as “recent events”, as Elliott faces an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board investigation on Friday after an image of him sat on a dead horse was posted on Twitter last weekend.

As a result of the photograph, owners Cheveley Park Stud announced on Tuesday they have moved their horses – including the unbeaten Envoi Allen, and favourite to win again at this month’s Festival – away from Elliott.

The hugely successful Irish trainer is also currently banned from running any of his horses in Britain, after the British Horseracing Authority announced the interim measure on Monday.

Gigginstown House Stud, owners of dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll, have decided to keep many of their horses at Elliott’s Cullentra yard – despite what they described as an “unacceptable” photograph.

A Twitter post on eCOMM 365 read: “eCOMM Merchant Solutions has terminated its sponsorship contract with Gordon Elliott due to recent events.”

James Given has criticised Elliott's actions
James Given has criticised Elliott’s actions (Simon Cooper/PA)

Former trainer James Given, who is now the BHA’s Director of Equine Health and Welfare, believes the ruling body made the correct decision in deciding to temporarily suspend Elliott from making entries in Britain.

“These are unprecedent times,” Given told Sky Sports Racing.

“Gordon, at the moment, holds more entries in Britain than almost any other trainer – and so we felt it was appropriate to take the action that we have, while we wait for the Irish to complete their process.”

When asked if Elliott-trained horses would be allowed to run in Britain if the IHRB concludes his actions do not merit a suspension, Given added: “I think the thing to do is let the Irish process work its way through – I don’t want to be speculating what they may come up with.

“We’ll let them carry out their due process and we’ll then react to that.”

While Cheveley Park have already removed the horses they have in training with Elliott to ensure they can run at the Cheltenham Festival, it remains unclear as to whether other owners will follow suit.

There have been suggestions another person could take over Elliott’s licence at Cullentra Stables, allowing the remaining horses to stay in the yard and potentially run at the Festival.

Given did not want to be drawn on whether such a plan was appropriate or feasible, but hopes a solution can be found which allows the equine stars currently at Cullentra to line up.

He said: “Our intention isn’t to stop the horses running – we want to see the best horses turn up at Cheltenham.

“I think we will judge each situation when we’re faced with it.”

From a personal point of view, Given spoke of his anger and frustration – describing Elliott’s actions as “selfish” and “callous”.

Punchestown Races – January 17th
Cheveley Park Stud’s Cheltenham favourite Envoi Allen has already left Gordon Elliott’s yard (PA)

“I was shocked, like I’m sure everyone else was, but then anger and frustration were the emotions that took over for me,” said Given.

“So many people work so hard in this sport, to project a good image of the sport, and we were thoroughly let down by a selfish, callous action like that.

“I really feel like I’ve got a foot in two camps still. One thing that has struck me since coming to the BHA is just how many people absolutely love racing, love the horses and want the best for racing.

“I was a consumer of the BHA for a couple of decades or more and didn’t come across these people. But that sense of anger and frustration is just rife across the BHA, as it is across all the training communities, and everyone who loves their horses.

“I’ve had friends from Ireland calling me, expressing their frustration. It’s not just a British thing.

“We’ve all been let down by these stupid actions.”

James Given to quit training and take up BHA role

James Given will retire from training early next year to take up the role as director of equine health and welfare with the British Horseracing Authority.

Given, who has also been a qualified vet since 1990, began his racing carer as assistant to Mark Johnston in 1995, before starting training in his own right in 1998.

His big-race winners include the popular Hugs Dancer, who claimed the 2002 Ebor and the 2003 Chester Cup. He went on to be beaten less than three lengths in the 2003 Caulfield Cup before finishing ninth in that year’s Melbourne Cup.

More recently Given has enjoyed Group-race success with Trick Or Treat, Lady Gloria, Indian Days and Dandino.

He is also a long-standing member of the BHA’s ethics committee, a trustee of the British Racing School and has been a member of the industry’s Horse Welfare Board since its inception in early 2019.

Given said: “I am delighted to be joining the BHA and welcome the opportunity to strive for ever improving welfare standards for racehorses.

“The current standards are world leading, but there is no time to rest on our laurels in a world demanding greater accountability. I look forward to working with colleagues across the industry, to show that racing is a compassionate sport that puts the welfare of horses at the centre of all we do. I know I am joining a team that shares and represents these ideals.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a trainer and am eternally grateful to all the people who have helped me along this journey – to the owners, many who have become friends, and the outstanding people who have been part of my team, over many years of hard work.

“I am also grateful to all the horses, fast and slow, willing and less so, that it has been a privilege and a pleasure to look after.”

Given will join the BHA in January 2021 and will formally stop training and hand in his trainers’ licence upon starting his new role.

Brant Dunshea, chief regulatory officer for the BHA, said: “We are extremely excited to welcome James to this role. He brings with him not only extensive clinical experience as a veterinarian, but also first-hand experience of training racehorses at the highest level.

“He has already been integral to the development of the industry’s welfare strategy through his involvement on the Horse Welfare Board, this will complement the equally important regulatory requirements of the role.

“We are delighted that James will be able to continue the excellent work of David Sykes, who has made significant progress in his time at the BHA in modernising the equine health and welfare department and improving the quality of life of our horses. We are grateful to David for everything he has done on behalf of the sport.”