Paul Nicholls said on Tuesday that Cheltenham Festival runners switching stables so close to the big meeting was far from ideal and could be detrimental to their chances.
The multiple champion trainer was speaking on a Jockey Club media call to promote the Festival just as news was breaking that Cheveley Park Stud were removing all eight horses they have in training with Gordon Elliot and transferring them to the yards of Henry De Bromhead and Willie Mullins.
And on Tuesday night it was revealed that Noel Moran will no longer sponsor Elliott's yard under the banner of eCOMM Merchant Solutions. He also has in the region of 20 horses trained by Elliott.
A statement on Tuesday night read: “eCOMM Merchant Solutions have terminated their sponsorship contract with Gordon Elliott due to recent events.”
Moran's horses remain at the yard. He said on Tuesday: "The rumours that we have moved the horses our horses from Gordon's stable are totally untrue." Racingtv.com briefly reported contrary to this very late on Monday night and we apologise for that error.
Elliott is at present barred from having runners in Britain, and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has announced it will convene on Friday to hear the case related to the image of the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse.
Regardless of what is decided on Friday, Elliott, 43 on Tuesday, has lost the services of several of his most prized performers.
The unbeaten Envoi Allen, hot favourite for the Marsh Chase, is among those moving to De Bromhead, along with Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Ballyadam and possible Triumph Hurdle hope Quilixios.
Watch how Envoi Allen won at the Festival last year
Sir Gerhard, who is set to put his unbeaten record on the line in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, will be trained by Mullins, who already houses the favourite for the race in Kilcruit.
Speaking generally about the prospect of horses moving stables so close to the Festival, which begins a fortnight today, Nicholls said: “It wouldn’t be ideal for horse or trainer. You wouldn’t want to change a horse’s diet so close to Cheltenham, then there’s new routine and a lot of things you have to do to get it right. It can make a massive impact and would not be increasing your chances.
“The horses could be unsettled. You’d really want them on the same hay, same feed, same diet, and people [trainers] do things so totally different.
“We’ve had quite a lot of horses come to us from Willie’s [Mullins] this year and it’s taken them the best part of a year to get used to our routine and doing things differently and it would be the same the other way round.
“It is quite a shock to the horses and it is not going to be an advantage moving them so close to Cheltenham, that is for sure.”
One of the most successful breeding and ownership operations in the sport, Cheveley Park are more renowned for their success on the Flat, but have ramped up their interest in National Hunt racing in recent years and already enjoyed multiple winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
The most notable is the brilliant Envoi Allen, who was arguably the most exciting horse in Elliott’s yard following back-to-back Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
🚨 @CPStudOfficial have confirmed that all eight of their horses with Gordon Elliott will now be moved to either Henry de Bromhead or Willie Mullins— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 2, 2021
🏇 Envoi Allen - de Bromhead
🏇 Quilixios - de Bromhead
🏇 Sir Gerhard - Mullins
🏇 Ballyadam - de Bromhead pic.twitter.com/Ns5SY0oBSI
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 Chris Richardson (Cheveley Park’s managing director) and the team. Logistics are in place and we’re organising it right now.”
Thompson is hoping any affect to the horses’ training routines will be minimal. “Hopefully, with trainers like Henry and Willie and the Cheveley team headed by Chris, we’ve got real professionals on the job to hopefully be able to resolve this very quickly," he said.
“It should be very smooth. That’s what we’re hoping for. It’s just very unfortunate timing, obviously.”
Thompson feels Cheveley Park ultimately had little option but to move the horses to other yards to ensure their reputation remained intact.
He said: “We had to consider what was happening (on Monday) 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.
Sir Gerhard is another Cheveley Park-owned horse on the move
“This reputation has been built up with various breeders and many people support us. We had to look at the situation in context of where Cheveley sit in the industry and our responsibility to the industry in Britain.
“It’s obviously very disappointing and extremely upsetting for the industry. People love horses and we, as a family, purchased Cheveley Park in 1975, so we’ve been racing and breeding for coming up to 46 years.
“I don’t know what the implications are longer term – I’m not close enough to the centre of the politics of racing and how it works between Britain and Ireland.
“All I know is, with my Cheveley Park Stud hat on, we had to take a decision as a board of directors to disassociate ourselves with Gordon at this time and do the right thing by the stud and by the industry.”
When asked if there was a possibility of Cheveley Park having horses with Elliott again in the long-term, Thompson added: “For the time being we’re moving the horses and that’s it.
“Obviously for Gordon, it’s a terrible time for him, but he’s made a terrible error of judgement, which he admits.
“I explained to him that we had to do the right thing by Cheveley Park and the right thing by our standing in the industry and what people expect of us.
“I’m not going to make a comment about long-term, but certainly in the short to medium term these horses will stay with Henry and Willie.”
While plans remain uncertain in such a fast-moving situation, Thompson expects Jack Kennedy to keep the ride on Envoi Allen at Cheltenham.
He said: “Envoi Allen has had Davy Russell and recently Jack Kennedy, and I personally would like to stick to continuity on retaining Davy and/or Jack, depending on injuries etc. With Envoi in particular, we want to stick to the previous relationships.”
Elliott has been “cooperating fully” with the IHRB since a photograph of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops was posted on Twitter on Saturday night.
On Tuesday afternoon, the IHRB published a new statement on its Twitter account, which read: “The Referrals Committee of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is scheduled to convene on Friday 5th March to hear evidence and consider an investigation relating to Mr. Gordon Elliott (Trainer).”
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