RACING legend Mick Fitzgerald was reduced to tears during an incredibly moving speech over Gordon Elliott’s dead horse photo shame.
Three-time Grand National winner Elliott confessed the image of him sitting on a dead horse was genuine late Sunday night.
The sport has been rocked by the sight of one of its most high-profile trainers doing the peace sign with his fingers while perched on the body of an animal that had suffered a suspected heart attack.
Elliott issued a statement apologising for the image and an investigation into its origin is ongoing.
Racing icon Fitzgerald, a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner from Ireland, spoke of his shock and sadness during a touching Sky Sports Racing interview.
An emotional Fitzgerald, 50, fights back tears as he says: “My initial reaction to it was, ‘I hope it’s a fake’.
“I just thought it has to be a fake.
“When I read that statement I felt so sad. The number one thing we have to get out to everybody is how much we care about these horses.
“It’s so important everybody knows that at the heart of this are people who love these animals.
“It’s making me quite emotional because these horses have given me a life that I’m privileged to have.
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“It just makes me feel really sad.
“I’ve been in situations where horses I have looked after or ridden have unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“The care and attention they get to the very end – we have to emphasise that people know we care for these horses.
“We want to celebrate them and make them realise how much they are loved by everybody in the sport.”
Elliott – who has been axed by bookies Betfair – attempted to explain the circumstances surrounding the photo in a statement.
He said: “The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after a horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops.
“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.
“At what was a sad time, which it is when any horse under my care passes away, 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, to my memory 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 and will not allay the concerns of many people both within and outside the world of horse racing.”
Prior to this scandal, Elliott, from Meath in Ireland, was one of the top trainers in the sport.
He led Tiger Roll to two straight Grand National wins from 2018 and first won it with 33-1 shot Silver Birch in 2007.
Elliott has saddled 32 Cheltenham Festival winners in all and scooped last year’s Irish Gold Cup with Delta Work.