Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh admits it was a tough week for the sport, following the controversy surrounding the emergence of a photograph of a Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse.

But Kavanagh is adamant that Friday's punishment for Elliott is proof that the industry as a whole will never accept the "lack of dignity" shown to the stricken beast. 

And he is hopeful that the whole episode won't have a negative impact on government funding towards HRI.

Elliott was handed a 12-month suspension from training horses on Friday, with six months suspended, and he was also ordered to pay costs of €15,000 by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IRHB).

Speaking on RTÉ's Sunday Sport, Kavanagh said that the punishment fitted the crime.

"It's been a difficult week for the industry but it was good to see the matter dealt with by the IHRB swiftly on Friday and they deserve credit for that," he said.

"It wasn't good for the sport when you have a leading figure making news for all the wrong reasons.

"That was part of the issue. Everyone in the sport immediately condemned what they saw and nobody could justify the photo – that was the universal reaction.

"What was surprising about it was that people said that it wasn't the Gordon Elliott they knew, and that it was so untypical of what goes on in the industry.

"Any time the industry is portrayed in that light it's not good."

Gordon Elliott

Looking at the week's events, Kavanagh said that he could understand why the British Horseracing Authority had moved to preemptively suspend Elliott from running horses last Monday before the conclusion of the IHRB investigation.

In terms of the damage that the episode might cause the industry, he was hopeful that his organisation would be able to justify continued support for the industry in Ireland. 

"People are fully entitled to ask questions with regards to what's going on," he conceded. 

"In that sense damage is done. But it falls on everyone in the industry to explain the positive aspects of horse welfare.

"The way these horses are looked after throughout their life, the care and attention that they do get.

"Technically this is not a welfare question – it was a lack of respect towards the horse, which was inexcusable. The welfare of the horses in Gordon's yard was not in question.

"The IRHB said that in their statement on Friday. There will be a period of reflection and then I think we'll need to explain better things we take for granted in the industry.

"The fact that thoroughbreds account for about a quarter of the total number of horses in the country. Around the country, even at this time of the year, hundreds of people staying up all night to foal these horses.

"From the moment they're born, through their racing career, and their breeding career afterwards, they're looked after - 'minded like babies' is an expression that is sometimes used."

Charles Byrnes

The Elliott affair wasn't the only setback for horse racing in this country over the last few weeks.

A six-month suspension handed out to trainer Charles Byrnes was upheld last month.

His horse Viking Hoard failed a drug test after a race at Tramore in October of 2018, and he was found to be "seriously negligent" in his supervision of his runner on the day. 

On Tuesday, opposition TD Matt Carthy asked Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue to come before the Oireachtas to justify state funding which goes to HRI, but Kavanagh is confident that the money it receives from the state is secure. 

"We've to justify the funding on the basis of other factors," he pointed out.

"You have to separate the funding structures, which are for the development of an industry and the creation of rural jobs, and the creation of employment, from an incident in time which was captured in a photograph.

"You've to clearly show that the sort of disrespect that was shown by Gordon will not be tolerated. I think the sentence on Friday sends out that signal.

"The level of shock and concern within the sector this week was palpable. That's because this was so unexpected, so unusual. That shock will be harnessed and used to good effect.

"No more than Gordon, the industry needs to see this as a turning point and move forward."