The mystery surrounding a sickening photograph of three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott sat astride a dead horse deepened last night amid claims that a drug cartel leaked the image in a bid to ruin him.
The horse-racing star’s fall from grace took a dramatic turn on Friday night when a judge noted a ‘sinister aspect’ to the case as he handed the trainer a year’s ban from the sport, suspended for the final six months.
‘The Committee are satisfied that the publication of this photograph is part of a concerted attack upon Mr Elliott, the full circumstances of which are unknown,’ said Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB).
The mystery surrounding a sickening photograph of three-time Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott sat astride a dead horse deepened last night amid claims that a drug cartel leaked the image in a bid to ruin him
Today, The Mail on Sunday can reveal mounting suspicion that the ‘concerted attack’ was orchestrated by a criminal gang seeking to ruin Elliott over a long-running feud.
Sources allege the cartel released the image of Elliott sat on the body of seven-year-old gelding Morgan while chatting on his mobile phone in revenge for his refusal to work with John Boylan, a notorious criminal.
Boylan has 67 convictions and has been described by Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau as ‘a leading and directing member of an organised crime group based in the West Dublin area specifically involved in armed robbery and the sale and supply of controlled drugs’.
He was also the owner of Labaik, a racehorse stabled at Elliott’s yard in County Meath after being bought for £25,000. Boylan had a 90 per cent share in the animal and Elliott five per cent.
In its first three races, the horse refused to start but it then dramatically won the 2017 Supreme Novices Hurdle race at Cheltenham with Boylan photographed celebrating the victory and €147,447 (£127,000) winner’s cheque in the parade ring.
Coverage of Labaik’s unexpected win and Boylan’s celebrations drew the attention of the police who suspected the racehorse had been bought with money made from crime. Shortly afterwards, detectives swooped to seize Boylan’s financial documents, computers, a £30,000 Mercedes Benz E Class and a small quantity of drugs.
Mr Elliott is pictured above with his girlfriend, TV presenter Kate Harrington
When they then learned that Boylan was planning to sell the horse for an estimated £430,000, the Criminal Assets Bureau blocked the sale. A month after the Cheltenham win, Labaik returned to the track at Punchestown in Ireland, but suffered a serious injury.
Following a lengthy inquiry, Ireland’s High Court ruled in October 2019 that Boylan had indeed purchased Labaik with the proceeds of crime along with a property in West Dublin refurbished at a cost of £540,000, a mobile home worth £28,000 and the Mercedes.
At that point, Elliott – who has had no involvement with any criminality nor any knowledge of Boylan’s illegal activities – refused to work any further with him nor train either the criminal’s horses or those of his associates.
Labaik remained at his yard, but Elliott announced in January that the nine-year-old grey had died from colic late last year.
‘It has been reported (on social media) that he sustained a cut to a leg and was put down, which wasn’t true. He wasn’t being ridden out and had been retired,’ he said.
According to sources, the feud rumbled along until last week when the photograph taken in 2019 of Elliott sitting on the body of Morgan was leaked.
‘It’s been said Gordon has had a big fall-out with Labaik’s owners because he’s refused to train their horses for them,’ said a well-informed source.
‘Among the racing fraternity it’s said that the gang, or people who are connected to them, are behind the leak.’
The theory of a co-ordinated attack on Elliott gained traction when footage also emerged of the trainer and friends enjoying drinking sessions at his yard. It was claimed that they were recorded during lockdown but Elliott insists it was filmed two years ago.
There were further lurid claims about an alleged party on Valentine’s Day where Elliott’s girlfriend Kate Harrington was said to have confronted a female stablehand about her friendship with the trainer.
Ms Harrington, a presenter on Racing TV, declined to comment on the claims, but said: ‘The last week has been tough for Gordon but I was proud to support him and was moved by how many people also were. He’s made a mistake and he is paying dearly for it.’
The events of the past week mark another extraordinary chapter in Elliott’s life, which has taken the son of a car mechanic from a small Irish village near Dublin to the winner’s enclosure of the world’s greatest steeplechase three times.
Elliott was 13 when he relieved his boredom one summer by helping to muck out stables close to his home. He quickly became hooked on horse racing, becoming an amateur jockey with almost 50 wins.
He took out a trainer’s licence in 2006 and the following year, aged just 29, won his first Grand National with the 33-1 outsider Silver Birch.
Sources allege the cartel released the image of Elliott sat on the body of seven-year-old gelding Morgan while chatting on his mobile phone in revenge for his refusal to work with John Boylan, pictured, a notorious criminal
‘This is a dream come true… I’m certainly going to celebrate tonight,’ he said afterwards.
In 2018 and again in 2019 he won the National with Tiger Roll, the first horse since Red Rum to win the race twice.
After Elliott guided the horse to his first victory, its owner Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary astonished passengers on board a flight by handing out free drinks to celebrate the win.
O’Leary, whose horses represent about 40 per cent of those kept at Elliott’s yard, has remained steadfastly loyal. ‘We all make mistakes, and what is important is we learn from them and ensure we do not repeat them,’ he said last week.
Mr Elliott appears to be intent on making a return to the sport. ‘I will serve my time and then build back better,’ he said last Friday.
Some believe, however, that the die is cast. ‘People were walking around the yard this week in tears. Horses were taken out of there on Tuesday and the girls were crying,’ said a source who has spoken to several staff at the stables.
‘They’re closing ranks around him but there’s a feeling in the wider industry that it’s too late.’