Gordon Elliott Banned & Tiger Roll To Miss The Grand National
The fallout from the leaked photo of Gordon Elliott sitting astride a horse that apparently died from a heart attack continues, with the British Horseracing Authority banning him from entering horses in competitions in the United Kingdom until the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s investigation into him is completed. It means that he and his horses may not be at the Cheltenham Festival, with Aintree also at risk.
If Elliott and the horses that he trains are all banned from taking part in the Grand National then it would mean no potential third win for Tiger Roll. The horse, which is owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, was the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Grand Nationals in 2018 and 2019. Many were hoping that he would be able to match Red Rum’s record of three wins this year, but that is now in doubt.
Whether Elliott is reinstated in time or not now seems a mute point since Giggenstown have taken the opportunity to announce they are withdrawing the horse from the National due to his unfavorable weight allowance. Whether that withdrawal does stand and is not just for posturing in the hope of getting a better rating (something which is certainly possible with Michael O’Leary) remains to be seen. At this stage, though, we have to assume the 11 year old will miss his chance at an historic back-to-back treble given the handicapper, Martin Greenwood, has refused to budge on his 166 rating.
No matter what the outcome of the initial ban, with a hearing set for the 5th March, we know that Elliott has already lost some of his 104 Cheltenham Festival entries with Cheveley Park Stud announcing they are moving all of their eight runners to other stables. Of particular note is Envoi Allen, the hot favourite in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, who moves to Henry de Bromhead. Willie Mullins, who needs no help in the battle to be top trainer, is boosted also by inheriting Sir Gerhard, fancied in the Champion Bumper, and others.
Tiger Roll Trainer Banned
Let’s start by taking a look at what happened to put the British Horseracing Authority in a situation where it felt it needed to ban Gordon Elliott from UK competitions. The Irish trainer, who was the youngest person to train a Grand National winner when Silver Birch won the race for him in 2007, issued an apology on Sunday after a photo emerged on social media of him sitting on top of a dead horse, smiling to the camera and making a ‘peace’ sign.
There was understandable outrage over the picture, which many in the horse racing industry hoped would turn out to be a fake. Elliott’s apology put paid to that idea, however, and had many questioning his position in the racing industry. His apology didn’t help matters either, with the trainer’s claims seeming to be wholly at odds with what the photograph appeared to show. Here’s what Elliott claimed happened as he added ‘context’ to the picture:
“I apologise profoundly for any offence that this photo has caused. The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops. At what was a sad time… my initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned.
I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished… Such background information may seem trivial at this time… However, I feel it is important to provide people with some context surrounding this photo.”
What It Means For Elliott’s Horses
The decision of the British Horseracing Authority to ban Gordon Elliott until the conclusion of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s investigation into the photograph means that any horses that are being trained by him will not be allowed to take part in races that are run in the United Kingdom. Whilst there are a number of low-level meetings that they will miss as a result, the fact that the Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon is a concern.
That means that Tiger Roll will not be able to run in the Glenfarcas Chase, an event that he won the two times that he went on the win the Grand National the following month. That being said, he lost out last time by 17 lengths, though the National was cancelled anyway as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other horses that may miss out on the Festival include the likes of Farclas and Grand Paradis, although undefeated star runner Envoi Allen will compete whatever as he will now run under the flag of Henry de Bromhead following the decision by Cheveley Park Stud to move their 8 horses away from Elliott.
Is The Ban Likely To Last That Long?
The Cheltenham Festival is arguably the biggest and most prestigious meeting in jump racing, so Gordon Elliott’s absence from it would undoubtedly make it poorer just in terms of the number of top-class horses that wouldn’t be able to attend. With that in mind, there will be immense pressure on the IHRB to complete their investigation as quickly as possible from all sorts of different members of the horse racing industry.
Whilst there’s no doubt that many would like Elliott to suffer personally for what he’s done, there’s also going to be a fear that the prestige of the Festival, which is already likely to be damaged by the lack of crowds, would take a further hit if a large number of talented horses don’t take part in it. It therefore wouldn’t be overly surprisingly if the investigation concluded in the next few days, with Elliott given a fine as a result of what’s happened.
Gigginstown Horse Stud have stuck by Gordon Elliott and said they will not be moving Tiger Roll or their other horses to a new trainer. In the wake of withdrawing Tiger Roll from the Grand National they seemed confident they would still be able to enter him into the Cross Country chase at Cheltenham, suggesting they expect the temporary ban on Elliott to be lifted by then:
“We therefore regret to announce that Tiger Roll will be removed from the Grand National entries at Tuesday’s forfeit stage. We hope he will run next as planned in the cross-country race at Cheltenham, where we hope he will enjoy himself and run well.”
A date for the hearing for Elliot has been set for Friday 5th March.
Will Tiger Roll Really Miss The Grand National?
Whilst the prestige of the Cheltenham Festival is unarguable, everyone involved in horse racing will be most interested to know what is going to happen to Tiger Roll and the Grand National. Interestingly, it seems as if what’s happening with Gordon Elliott is only likely to be a secondary issue as far as the horse’s entry into the ‘World’s Greatest Steeplechase’ is concerned, given his owners are unhappy with the weight that he’s been assigned.
The Grand National is, of course, a handicap event in which the amount of weight carried by the horses is decided by a handicapper. Gigginstown House Stud, the owners of Tiger Roll, have announced that they are withdrawing him from this year’s National after the amount of weight that he would be asked to carry was revealed. Having carried 10 stone and 13 pounds in 2018, that was increased to 11 stone and 5 pounds the tear after.
The British Horseracing Authority’s handicapper, Martin Greenwood, said that Tiger Roll would be asked to carry an additional seven pounds this year, taking the total weight he’ll have to carry to 11 stone and 9 pounds. That has angered Michael O’Leary and his brother Eddie, who feel as though the horse is not being ‘fairly treated at the weights’ and have therefore decided to withdraw him from the race.
The feel that the handicapper’s decision to give Tiger Roll a mark of 166 is ‘patently unfair’ and seems to be based on the horse’s reputation rather than his age and form. Gigginstown’s statement on the matter said:
“We made clear that if Tiger Roll was rated in the 150s (ie where he was two years ago) which is what his age and form now warrants, he would be allowed to run this year’s National and go for a historic three in a row.”
The statement went on:
“However, the Handicapper has decided to rate him on his reputation rather than his form – which we fully accept is his prerogative – but we have a duty of care to Tiger, and so we will not ask him to carry an unfair weight burden especially as he gets older and his form declines.”
Whether this is just a move by Gigginstown to put pressure on the handicapper to drop Tiger Roll’s weight or a genuine thing remains to be seen, although time is running short if they plan to re-enter him for a chance at an historic three in a row.
What we do know at this stage is that there are now two possible reasons why Tiger Roll may not run in this year’s Grand National, taking away the horse’s chance of equalling Red Rum’s record. If the ban on Gordon Elliott is lifted in time, the horse may still not take part in the event if the handicapper sticks to their guns over the amount of weight that the ageing horse is being asked to carry.
In fact, handicapper Martin Greenwood has already come out and said he won’t be moving his rating for Tiger Roll taking a robust stance:
“Mr and Mr O’Leary did say if he didn’t get a mark in the 150s they weren’t going to run. They’ve stuck to their words, albeit two weeks later. It’s entirely their decision, owners and trainers enter and withdraw horses all the time and this is just another instance.”
May Horses Move To A Different Trainer?
One option that is open to Gigginstown House Stud and all of the other owners that have horses under Gordon Elliott’s control is to move them to a different trainer. If the owners are particularly keen to have their horses run in the likes of the Cheltenham Festival or the Grand National and it seems as though they won’t be able to as long as Elliott is their trainer, then it’s difficult to see that they’ve got any other choice.
When the news of the tasteless photograph of Gordon Elliott emerged, Michael O’Leary was quick to say that Gigginstown House Stud would stand by their trainer of choice. Even so, the team was divided over what to do about the horse regarding Grand National entry even before the current controversy came to light. With O’Leary’s current stance being that Tiger Roll will not take part in the National, there’s no need for him to change trainer.
The same cannot be said of other well-fancied horses that are currently under Elliott’s care, as mentioned already eight horses have been removed from Gordon’s care with the decision by Cheveley Park Stud to move Envoi Allen and seven other runners to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Millins.
Delta Work is the favourite for the National, having been given the top-weight for the event alongside Tiger Roll. His absence from it would be keenly felt, as would any of the other 13 or so horses that Elliott has entered for the Grand National. The coming days and weeks will doubtless see this story develop even more.
What Will Happen To Tiger Roll Bets?
Those who have bet ante-post on Tiger Roll to win the 2021 Grand National will not be in with much luck if he is withdrawn. As standard non-runner money back does not apply to bets placed in advance and while there are some now offering non-runner money back on this years National any wagers placed previously will not count.
Given the large sums that tend to be bet on the favourites for the National you can expect there are more than a few people out there that could expect to lose large sums if the horse is not re-entered. There is an outside chance that some bookies in a generous mood may refund ante-post stakes on Tiger Roll, for example, Paddy Power often do similar things as part of their ‘Justice Refunds’. In the main, however, don’t expect to get your money back if Tiger Roll doesn’t run.