Gordon Elliott to face hearing on Friday over image that stunned racing

After almost a week of speculation and controversy, Gordon Elliott will move a step closer to learning the professional cost for the damaging image of him sitting astride a dead horse when the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board conducts its referral into the incident at 9.30am on Friday.

It seems unlikely that the trainer will saddle runners at the Cheltenham Festival, with the BHA having the power under its rules to extend the temporary block on Elliott entries regardless of the outcome of the case.

It is unclear whether the referrals panel will deliver a verdict on Friday, but should the Cheltenham Gold Cup and three-time Grand National-winning trainer have his licence suspended, it is understood that contingency plans for the immediate future of his string are under consideration at his Cullentra House base. Elliott would have seven days to appeal against any potential penalty. 

The IHRB on Thursday refused to confirm where the hearing would take place. Its headquarters at the Curragh and Fairyhouse racecourse, where racing is set to get underway at 1.35 on Friday, are among the likelier options.

A suspension barring Elliott from having any runners in Britain was imposed by the BHA on Monday and remains in place until the conclusion of the IHRB case, whether that is on Friday or at a later date. That would also apply were Elliott to appeal against any disciplinary action. 

James Given, the BHA’s director of equine health and welfare, said on Wednesday the BHA’s intention “isn't to stop horses running, we want to see the best horses run at Cheltenham", and that it would consider what action is best to allow that following the IHRB decision.

However, the regulator, which has labelled the photo of Elliott sitting on Morgan with his phone in one hand and holding two fingers up on his other hand in a 'peace' or 'victory' sign as "totally unacceptable", has the ability to refuse entries from any trainer. That would permit it to maintain a suspension on Elliott having runners if it chose to do so even if his licence is not removed by the IHRB.

If Elliott receives a suspension or disqualification from the Irish authorities, that would be reciprocated by the BHA.

Suggestions had been made that Davy Russell, who has been an integral part of some of Elliott's biggest successes, could take a hands-on role in the training of the string, but the sidelined rider moved to quash such rumours and emphasised that a return to the saddle is at the forefront of his mind.

"I don't know anything about it and it's totally unfounded," Russell told the Irish Independent about the speculation. "I haven't been approached in any way, shape or form, I haven't been approached by the Turf Club or by Gordon or by anyone. The only job I have is that I speak to a lot of owners and I ride horses and that's my main priority."

He added: "I have to get back, I've no other choice, that's my job. I'm a jockey and I need to continue being a jockey, that's all I know. I'm not going training horses, if that was the case then it’d be something that I’d be concentrating on the day I got the fall."

The IHRB also confirmed to the Racing Post on Thursday afternoon that no referral date has been set for the investigation into the unsettling video of Cheltenham Festival-winning amateur jockey Rob James.

Key questions and answers for Friday's hearing
Who will be on the panel?

Details of the individuals sitting on the referrals panel will not be disclosed prior to the hearing, in line with IHRB protocols. A spokesperson said: "It is not standard practice for us to confirm the delegation of the referrals or appeals body in advance of a hearing."

Under which regulation will Elliott be charged?

The IHRB does not release such information in advance of a case but it has been suggested that the most applicable regulation could be rule 272, which relates to preserving the good reputation of horseracing.

A fine or suspension could be implemented under this regulation, but the rule through which any charge is addressed will only be determined once the panel establishes the facts of the case.

The IHRB rule book states sanctions are possible for an individual who "whether verbally or by conduct or behaviour, acts in a manner which is prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing [whether or not such behaviour or conduct, verbal or otherwise is associated directly with horseracing]."

The IHRB referrals panel will hear the evidence from all sides in any referral case, consider the evidence put before it and deliberate its decision, with the potential for a 14-day period before a suspension takes effect. An outcome can be appealed against within the following seven days.

Determining the sort of sanctions that could be imposed by the IHRB is difficult, but the BHA has the power to refuse entries in Britain from any individual it wishes – regardless of the referral's outcome.

Will the outcome of the hearing be made public on Friday?

An IHRB spokesperson said earlier this week the time of year or interest in other racing jurisdictions would not prevent the regulator from following due process.

Although the cases vary significantly in nature, details of the recent Viking Hoard saga involving Charles Byrnes were revealed to the public 12 days after the referral date and following the subsequent appeal there was a nine-day gap before the final judgement was published.

"The decision to reserve or give a judgement on the day of a hearing is at the discretion of the panel that hears a case," said an IHRB spokesperson.

Is the hearing open to the public or media?

The referral will take place behind closed doors and no members of the media will be permitted to attend. The referral is set to take place in person but the IHRB would not confirm where it will be held.

The regulator typically announces the outcomes of such proceedings through its official Twitter feed. The Racing Post's digital platforms will provide live coverage of the result as soon as it is revealed.