Contrite Elliott back in business

What is almost sixteen years ago now, Roger Loughran fell foul of racing’s Brains Trust by pulling up the Dessie Hughes trained Central House too early – mistaking the winning post – in a major race at Leopardstown. The Cortown man was subsequently banned for 14 days in the wake of the incident, but it was perhaps the reaction of the horse’s late trainer spoke loudest.

“Roger gets a real tune out of him,” Hughes said, “and I can only feel sorry for him, as he’s the one who’s really suffering now. The owners still have their horse, and there are plenty more races for him, and Roger will keep the ride” stated the now sadly departed master of Osborne Lodge. Shrewd judgement, too, as horse and rider got their redemption at the same venue a few weeks later.

Not only that but Roger – a gifted footballer before picking up a saddle – went on to have a distinguished career in the saddle and is now a key figure in Barry Connell’s fledgling but burgeoning training operation. Now, not for a moment am I comparing Roger’s error with the incident which saw Gordon Elliott suspended for the last six months. The comparison lies in the fact Roger was allowed put the incident behind him and go on to enjoy a distinguished career in racing.

Gordon Elliott needs and deserves the same opportunity. Yes the two incidents were totally different and what happened never should have. But, as the piece which appeared on these pages in the aftermath of the incident was headlined, the last man who never made a mistake was crucified on a Good Friday. There was absolutely no need to have that replayed.

On Monday night in an emotional interview with his good friend and Racing TV journalist Gary O’Brien, a visibly shaken Elliott again apologised for the incident and admitted “Not a night has gone by where I haven’t thought about the hurt it has brought on my friends, my family and my staff”.

In the aftermath of the emergence of the photo showing the trainer sitting astride a deceased animal, as well as being suspended for 12 months – with six suspended – he also had stock belonging to leading owners Ronnie Bartlett and Cheveley Park Stud – including Cheltenham Bumper winner Sir Gerhard – removed from his care. It’s a mark of the man, however, that his greatest concern over that particular matter was for his staff. As he reflected “When I lost those horses from the yard, the lads and lasses in the yard lost them too”.

Racing, like a lot of specialised environments is a fairly tight knit community, which meant that even though Henry De Bromhead, Willie Mullins and Ian Ferguson were obviously delighted to strike it lucky with the horses which they ‘inherited’ from Cullentra but each were as appreciative of the work put in by and the plight their former handler found himself in as they were of their achievements themselves.

A fact acknowledged and appreciated by the returning trainer, who revealed “On the night Quixillios won the Triumph (Hurdle) Henry rang me, and so did Willie and Ian Ferguson when the other horses had won. Those phonecalls will stay with me as long as I live”.

Gordon Elliott pictured at Punchestown today

Crucially for the Summerhill native, while there were defectors from his roster of owners – and significant ones – other major players in the industry like John P. McManus and Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud and Philip J. Reynolds have maintained faith in and loyalty to the Longwood-based operator. Which means the 41-year-old can still call on such equine talent as Abracadabras and Andy Dufresne and Presenting Percy.

Doubtless, for now at least, all that will matter to Gordon will be to be training winners again and once more striving to become Champion Trainer. That will come in due course, undoubtedly.

Today saw the first runner in Gordon’s name since the controversy blew up. Oh Purple Reign running a decent race under Declan McDonogh before tiring in the ground. When, sooner rather than later, the first winner goes in, the weight will lifted from his shoulders and racing will be the better for it.

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