WARNING: Graphic content
Racing’s reputation suffered another blow as jockey Rob James apologised for a video circulating of him jumping on to a dead horse and pretending to ride it.
James’s apology comes hot on the heels of three-time Grand National winning trainer and fellow Irishman Gordon Elliott also apologising for sitting on a dead horse whilst on the phone.
The video shows James jumping onto the unnamed horse — who had collapsed and died of cardiac arrest on the gallops in 2016 — pretending to ride it whilst those around him laugh.
“I have become aware of a video circulating of me on social media,” James told racing newspaper The Irish Field.
“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 30th, 2016.
“I sincerely apologise to the owners of the mare, the staff who cared for her, the horseracing industry and all followers of horse racing for my actions.”
The 28-year-old jockey — who rode the Michael O’Leary-owned Milan Native to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham Festival last year — said he was heartbroken.
“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,” he said.
“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) said it was investigating the video.
“We are aware of further social media content circulating and the matter is under investigation,” it tweeted.
The world has been horrified by the footage. Author Freya North tweeted: “Too little, too late. ‘Heartbroken’ that you were found out, more like. The ‘damage’ is done. Go down to the job centre Rob James — join the queue with Gordon Elliott. You both should be banned for life — not just from racing but from coming anywhere near any animal.”
Politician George Freeman wrote: “The photographs of Irish racing trainer Gordon Elliot & amateur jockey Rob James will appal, shock & bewilder the hundreds of 000’s of people in horseracing united by a shared love of horses & horse welfare. Racing needs to come down on these two. HARD.”
Journalist Dave Yates told Racing TV: “I’m angry, outraged, appalled, let-down and I’m worried about the sport.”
TV presenter Pip Tomson said the footage “makes me want to vomit”.
James’ scandal comes as Elliott prepares to face a hearing later this week into the image of him sitting on a dead horse while talking on the phone. He has been barred from having runners in England until the result of the investigation by the IHRB is announced.
It places Elliott’s owners, principally Ryanair boss O’Leary, in a quandary with jumps racing’s showpiece event the Cheltenham Festival due to begin in a fortnight.
They are allowed to switch trainers if they want their horses to run in England, but O’Leary has so far stood by 43-year-old Elliott.
Elliott has trained 32 winners at the Festival and brought O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud huge success. He trained Don Cossack to land the blue riband event the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2016 and Tiger Roll to successive Grand National victories in 2018/19 at Aintree.
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