Rob James, an amateur jockey who rode Gordon Elliott’s Milan Native to win at Cheltenham last March, said on Tuesday that he wished to “sincerely apologise” after a video emerged which showed him climbing on to the back of a dead horse.
James, quoted by the Irish Field, confirmed that he was the individual in a video which started to circulate on social media on Tuesday morning. He is seen briefly climbing on the corpse of a horse which had died beside a gallop, accompanied by laughter from onlookers, apparently shortly before the body is to be removed.
“I have become aware of a video circulating of me on social media,” James said. “I would just like to apologise for my actions which were wholly inappropriate and disrespectful to a lovely five-year-old mare, who unfortunately suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while at exercise earlier that morning, April 30, 2016.
“I sincerely apologise to the owners of the mare, the staff who cared for her, the horse racing industry and all followers of horse racing for my actions. 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. 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.”
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), the sport’s regulator in Ireland, had earlier said on Twitter that it was“aware of further social media content circulating” and that “the matter is under investigation”.
James rode at Punchestown on Monday and had been booked to ride Gentle Jolie at Gowran Park on Tuesday, but the horse was scratched from the contest after the video emerged. He has had 35 rides in Ireland this season including nine for Elliott, who is also the subject of an IHRB investigation after a picture of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops emerged on Saturday evening.
Elliott also provided James with the biggest moment of his career when he steered Milan Native to victory in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup for amateur riders at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The latest shocking image involving a dead horse adds to the pressure on the Irish regulator after the British Horseracing Authority said on Monday night that it will ban Elliott from having runners in Britain until the IHRB’s investigation is complete.
The BHA’s decision has already resulted in several owners moving their horses elsewhere to ensure that they can run at the Cheltenham Festival, which opens two weeks from Tuesday.
The Cheveley Park Stud, which is based in Newmarket, became the first significant owner to leave Elliott’s stable on Tuesday when it moved four horses, all of which are major contenders for races at the Cheltenham Festival in a fortnight, to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Mullins.
Envoi Allen, unbeaten in 12 races, is odds-on to win the Marsh Novice Chase on 17 March and will join De Bromhead along with Ballyadam and Quilixios, second- and third-favourite, respectively for the Supreme and Triumph Hurdles, while Sir Gerhard, favourite for the Champion Bumper, will now be trained by Mullins.
Cheveley Park director Richard Thompson told Sky Sports Racing: “We’ve made a decision this morning to move the horses from Gordon’s yard. We have eight horses [with Elliott] and they’ll go to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Mullins. That will be organised by [Cheveley Park’s managing director] Chris Richardson and the team. Logistics are in place and we’re organising it right now.
“We had to consider what was happening with the building story and the backdrop of Cheveley’s reputation – in terms of maybe the most important British-owned racing and breeding operation in the UK. It’s obviously very disappointing and extremely upsetting for the industry.”