Just two years after he was banned from the Cheltenham Festival, Gordon Elliott’s participation at the 2023 showpiece could also be in jeopardy after one of his horse’s failed a drugs test.
The Irishman served six months of an initial 12-month suspension after he was photographed sitting on a dead horse. That meant he missed a number of key dates in the racing calendar, including Cheltenham.
And now his immediate future is in doubt once more after it was found that Zanahiyr, Elliott’s horse that finished third in the Champion Hurdle at the Festival in 2022, was drugged with 3-hydroxylidocaine, a substance commonly used at stables as a local anaesthetic.
The horse could now be disqualified retrospectively – don’t worry, you won’t have to pay any each way winnings back, and there are likely to be further repercussions for the Irish trainer.
Elliott will appear before an independent disciplinary panel tomorrow (Wednesday) ordered by the BHA, with a range of punishments available to the governing body if they believe that Elliott administered the drug in bad faith.
A ban of longer than a month would see the Irishman miss the Cheltenham Festival, although a fine seems the most likely sanction if Elliott is found guilty – his countryman, Dermot Weld, was fined €1,000 (£891) for a similar offence by the Irish Turf Club.
The BHA’s Rule (K)2.2 dictates that the sanctions for administering prohibited substances ranges from a fine and disqualification to a ban, with suspensions of between one and ten years available if the panel believes there’s a ‘high level of culpability’ for the positive test.
Somewhat pressing for Elliott is that he would have to hand back more than £47,000 in prize money if Zanahiyr is disqualified. Saint Roi, trained by Willie Mullins for J.P. McManus, would instead be bumped up to third place and bag connections an unlikely bonus.
It’s been a tough start to 2023 for Elliott.
In addition to news of this positive drugs test, he has sadly lost two of his horses in Three Stripe Life and Top Bandit. Both were in the mix for honours at Cheltenham, but tragically suffered fatal injuries in falls at Leopardstown and Naas respectively.
Meanwhile, Elliott’s top jockey – Jack Kennedy – broke his leg at Naas as well, and he faces a race against time to be fit for the Prestbury Parke extravaganza in March.
“It’ll be tight and he [Kennedy] knows that,” Elliott said.
“It’ll be down to the wire. But if he’s back he’ll be riding everything. He’s number one now and all these horses are waiting for him to come back.
“I’d say for Jack’s own peace of mind he’d like to ride a day [before Cheltenham]. If he’s not coming back on the Sunday before he’s not going to ride on the Tuesday, that’s the way I’m looking at it.”
Elliott called upon his old mate Davy Russell and tempted him out of retirement for the Dublin Racing Festival, where he showed the old magic in guiding Mighty Potter to victory. But there’s been no confirmation that Russell will continue on until Cheltenham.
On his return to the Festival in 2022, Elliott saddled just two winners – his worst performance in a number of years.