The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body on Friday suspended decorated trainer Gordon Elliott for six months amid a furor over a photo of him sitting atop a dead horse.

In a statement, the IHRB announced that its punishment of Elliott — actually a 12-month ban with the latter six-month sanction suspended — for violating a rule that “relates to the proper conduct and good reputation of horse racing.”

The IHRB also ordered Elliott to pay a fine of nearly $18,000.

“Where breaches of rules occur and where participants in racing act in a manner that brings the sport into disrepute, there are no winners, and in fact, the loss is to Irish racing with damage to the reputation of the sport,” Denis Egan, chief executive of the IHRB, said in the statement. “Having acted with thoroughness and having followed due process at all times, the IHRB team are satisfied that the case has been dealt with fairly and appropriately.

“Our team who prepared the case worked tirelessly since the issue emerged just a few days ago and ensured their investigation, presented today and with the support of our legal team, was thorough, fair to the parties involved, and above all, focused on ensuring that the integrity and good reputation of the sport is upheld.”

Elliott was shown in the photo holding a phone in one hand while making a “V” sign with the other, a pose that, combined with his facial expression, appeared to some to be making light of the situation. Such was the inflammatory nature of the image that when it began to go viral this past Saturday it sparked speculation that it must have been faked. Elliott, however, acknowledged its legitimacy in a statement Sunday in which he apologized for “any offence caused.”

Elliott, 43, claimed the photo “was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops.” He said he was standing over the horse while waiting for help with its removal when his phone rang and he absent-mindedly sat down to take the call. His hand gesture, he said, was meant to let an arriving member of his team know to wait until he was finished with the call.

“I appreciate that an initial viewing of this photo suggests it is a callous and staged photo but nothing could be further from the truth,” declared Elliott, who trains horses at Cullentra House stables in Ireland’s County Meath. “ … Horse welfare and the care and attention to detail involved is absolutely at the core of everything we do here and both myself and all of my team pride ourselves on those standards.”

In a Twitter post last Saturday, Elliott said he would be “cooperating fully” with the IHRB investigation.

The British Horseracing Authority said Monday it will “use powers under its own rules to refuse to allow horses trained by Mr Elliott to race in Britain pending consideration of the outcome of the Irish investigation.” It added that horses trained by him could be transferred to other trainers and entered into British races.

The BHA said it was “appalled” by the photo and, in addition to whatever might come of the IHRB investigation, the British body was “considering its own regulatory options.”

“We expect all those in our sport to demonstrate respect for horses, on the racecourse, in the training yard, on the gallops, and wherever they have horses in their care,” the BHA said. “People who work in our industry believe their values — of caring for and respecting our horses — have been deeply undermined by this behaviour. On their behalf, and on behalf of all horse-lovers, we say unequivocally that British horseracing finds this totally unacceptable.”

Other statements of condemnation were issued by Horse Racing Ireland, Britain’s National Trainers Federation and Cheveley Park Stud. The latter is an ownership and breeding operation in England that has hired Elliott to train, among other horses, Envoi Allen, an undefeated gelding favored to win next week at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, England.

On Tuesday, video surfaced of a jockey sitting atop a dead horse, prompting further outrage and questions about the sport’s respect for the animals that fuel it. Jockey Rob James, who rode an Elliott-trained horse to a win last year at the Cheltenham Festival, apologized for the video, which reportedly is from 2016.

“To try defending my stupidity at the time would add further insult and hurt to the many loyal people that have supported me during my career,” James told the Irish Field. “I have caused embarrassment to my employers, my family and most importantly the sport I love. I am heartbroken by the damage I have caused and will do my best to try and make amends to those hurt by my conduct.”

Elliott was dropped Monday by British betting company Betfair, for which he had been an ambassador. “While we recognise that Gordon deeply regrets and apologised unreservedly for his poor judgement,” the company said (via the BBC), “his actions are completely at odds with the values of the Betfair brand and that of our employees.”

“It is indefensible,” Elliott said of the photo to the Racing Post. “Whether alive or dead, the horse was entitled to dignity. A moment of madness that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life paying for and that my staff are suffering for. I will be punished, I fully understand that. But it absolutely breaks my heart to read and hear people say that I have no respect for my horses. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My whole life has revolved around horses since I was a child. I know nothing else. Horses are all I have. I came from nothing and built a dream.

“When your world starts crumbling in front of you, it’s a scary place to be,” he continued. “I just hope people can understand how truly sorry I am and find some way to forgive me for what I have done.”

After a successful career as a rider, Elliott achieved greater prominence as a trainer, particularly of National Hunt horses, which compete in steeplechase and hurdles races. His first big win in that capacity came at the Grand National in 2007, and his next two victories in steeplechase’s foremost event were back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 with Tiger Roll, whose bid for three in a row was wiped out last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Elliott told the Racing Post that the horse in the photo was a Gigginstown-owned gelding who was 7 when he died of a heart aneurysm in 2019.

Read more: