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Furor grows over photo of champion trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on dead horse

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Trainer Gordon Elliott during the Grand National Festival on April 6, 2017.

Reuters Staff/Reuters

Until last week, Gordon Elliott had the kind of backstory the sports world loves – the son of a car mechanic who rose from nothing to become a superstar in British and Irish horse racing through sheer guts and determination.

His renown as a horse trainer is unparalleled. He’s won the Grand National steeplechase three times and dominates the Cheltenham Festival on a regular basis. He’s transformed a derelict dairy farm in Ireland into a racing juggernaut stacked with nearly 200 horses, including Tiger Roll, the first two-time winner of the Grand National in nearly 50 years. “There’s only one thing I want to be,” he once said “That’s a champion trainer. I don’t really care about anything else.”

But now Elliott’s future has been thrown into turmoil over a scandal that has shaken the sport and raised questions about how the racing industry treats horses.

It centres around a photograph of Elliott taken in 2019, which surfaced on social media this week. The picture showed him sitting on a dead horse named Morgan, flashing a “V” sign while chatting on his cellphone.

The image sparked a public outcry and led to calls for Elliott to be banned from racing. Several companies, including gambling giant Betfair, immediately cut their ties to the trainer and some owners pulled their horses from his Cullentra House stables. “It is just such an appalling image,” champion jockey Peter Scudamore told the BBC this week. “It just hit the bottom of my stomach.”

On Friday the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board banned Elliott for 12 months, with the last six months suspended. In its ruling the IHRB said the photograph showed “appalling bad taste” and added; “There can be no doubt but that the production of the subject photograph has been a cause of enormous distress to all those who appreciate the enjoyment that horses brings to their lives.” The British Horseracing Authority is expected to impose a similar sanction and it has already banned Elliott from racetracks in Britain.

Elliott has offered several apologies and he didn’t contest the IHRB’s ruling. “I am paying a heavy price for my error but I have no complaints,” he said in a statement on Friday. “I was disrespectful to a dead horse, an animal that had been a loyal servant to me and was loved by my staff.”

In a statement earlier this week he explained that the horse had suffered a heart attack during training. He added that he was standing over the body when he received a phone call. “Without thinking, I sat down to take it. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished,” he said. “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.”

His comments have done little to quell the uproar or the growing debate about the welfare of race horses. “The main subject of that picture is the dead horse,” said Dene Stansall of Animal Aid, a non-profit group that campaigns for better treatment of race horses. “Why did he die and how many of these horses are dying?”

Few argue that horse racing is dangerous, especially steeplechase, in which horses jump over barriers that stand up to 1.5 metres tall. The Grand National covers 7.2 kilometres and horses have to clear 30 jumps made of woven spruce branches. In 2019 Up for Review fell at the first fence and television viewers briefly watched the horse convulsing on the turf before dying. Two other horses died during the three-day series of races.

According to figures complied by the BHA, 135 horses died in all races last year across Britain. That was down from 177 in 2019, although there were fewer races in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 202 horses died in 2018.

Stansall and others believe the death toll is higher because the BHA doesn’t include horses that die in training, which could account for an additional 200 deaths annually. He adds that horses are being put under increasing strain through over-racing, intensive training and specialized diets that are not designed for the horse’s well-being.

The Grand National and BHA insist that racing has improved and that animal care is paramount. “As a consequence of British racing’s investment in safety, welfare and health, the number of horses that have died on racecourses has decreased by one third in the last 20 years, to 0.18 per cent of runners,” the BHA said. The Grand National said it has changed fences to make them more forgiving and improved postrace care for horses to prevent injuries.

Many people have stood by Elliott, including Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, who co-owns Tiger Roll and Morgan, the horse in the photograph. “We accept Gordon’s sincere, profound and unreserved apology and we will continue to support him and his team at Cullentra,” O’Leary said in a statement.

But Elliott’s career remains uncertain and he spoke this week about the toll the scandal has taken. “When your world starts crumbling in front of you, it’s a scary place to be,” he told the Racing Post. “My whole life has revolved around horses since I was a child. I know nothing else. Horses are all I have. I came from nothing and built a dream.”

Source:- The Globe and Mail

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Training camp questions: Edmonton Oilers – TSN

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With summer officially coming to an end and training camps set to open across the National Hockey League this week, TSN gets ready for the preseason by looking at the three biggest questions facing each of the seven Canadian franchises.

On tap for today are the Edmonton Oilers, who finished with their highest points percentage in over 30 years (.643) but were swept away by the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round of the playoffs.

1. Is the defence better or worse than last year?

The Edmonton Oilers made massive changes to their defensive corps over the summer.

Gone are Adam Larsson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Oscar Klefbom, with Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci as the primary replacements. We know the Oilers won’t have much of an issue scoring goals, but did they do enough over the summer to prevent giving them up?

Like most off-season overhauls, that answer will likely depend on a few different things.

For starters, what does Keith have left in the tank? Keith is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, a three-time All-Star and a two-time Norris Trophy winner. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015 and has 625 points in 1,192 career NHL regular-season games.

But Keith is 38 now and as TSN’s Travis Yost points out, no Chicago Blackhawks skater conceded more goals or expected goals against – goaltender neutral – over the past two seasons. Chicago allowed the seventh-most goals last season and Keith was second-worst on the team at minus-13.
The 27-year-old Ceci was signed to a four-year, $13 million contract by the Oilers in free agency but will join his fourth team in the last four seasons. As things stand right now, it’s likely he’ll play with Keith on the second pairing.

Edmonton locked in their top pairing with contract extensions for Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie. Nurse had a career-best 16 goals last season and Barrie recorded 48 points in 56 games.

Considering the firepower the Oilers have up front, this team shouldn’t have any trouble scoring, especially with their defenceman contributing at that level.

Another intriguing option for head coach Dave Tippett is 21-year-old Evan Bouchard. The No. 10 selection from the 2018 draft, Bouchard only has 21 NHL games under his belt and might be asked to take on a much bigger role than in years past.

2. How will major free agent signee Zach Hyman fit in?

As the clock ticked toward free agency last season, Hyman told reporters he would like to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs if it made sense. But given the Leafs’ cap situation and Hyman’s desire for a long-term deal, what made sense to one side didn’t to the other.

In swooped the Oilers, who signed Hyman to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal in one of the most debated signings of the off-season.

Hyman’s offensive numbers – 15 goals and 18 assists last season – aren’t necessarily eye-popping considering the kind of dollar value and term he got, but the Toronto native brings a lot more to the table than just points. A skilled two-way player with or without the puck, Hyman is a combined plus-70 the past four seasons. Sure, playing alongside Toronto’s other elite forwards helps that, but it’s not like there’s going to be much of a drop-off with the Oilers.

Hyman is expected to slide in beside Connor McDavid – the same Connor McDavid who had 72 assists in 56 games in 2020-21 – on the top line and should have an instant impact for the Oilers on both ends of the ice in the short term.

Time will tell if that holds up as the years go by. History hasn’t been kind to seven-year deals for 29-year-old forwards like Hyman, especially ones with a documented history of knee injuries. But finding a player like Hyman on the open market isn’t easy and is never cheap.

3. Is Jesse Puljujarvi poised to take the next step?

Two years ago, Puljujarvi appeared to have moved on from the Edmonton Oilers.

He was drafted fourth overall in 2016 but bounced between the Oilers and American Hockey League affiliate Bakersfield Condors during his first three seasons. Things didn’t exactly go smoothly, and he signed with Karpat of the SM-liiga in Finland in July of 2019 and elected to re-sign last summer with an opt-out in time for the 2020-21 NHL season.

Since he left as a restricted free agent, the Oilers retained Puljujarvi’s NHL rights. General manager Ken Holland and Tippett promised the youngster a clean slate if he ever decided to return to the NHL.

That might have been exactly what he needed.

Puljujarvi recorded career highs in both goals (15) and assists (10) and was a plus-6, far outpacing his four goal and five assist tally with a minus-14 goal differential in 2018-19, his last NHL campaign before departing for Finland.

Puljujarvi spent much of last season playing on McDavid’s right side and the duo outscored opponents 42 to 33 at even strength. His goal total from 2020-21 isn’t especially impressive alongside McDavid but when you consider that he saw limited power-play time and 13 of his 15 markers came at even strength, it makes more sense. If Hyman slides in on the left side as expected, there could be plenty more opportunity for the 23-year-old to put up some numbers heading into restricted free agency.

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Jim Hughson retiring after 42-year broadcasting career – Sportsnet.ca

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Sportsnet’s Jim Hughson is stepping away from the mic.

The Hall of Fame play-by-play commentator announced his retirement from sports broadcasting on Tuesday, ending a 42-year career.

“It’s been a fantastic run and I’d like to thank Sportsnet, Hockey Night in Canada and all my friends and colleagues over the years for the tremendous support and countless memories,” said Hughson. “This is a decision I made in consultation with my family and I’m very much at peace with it. My only goal in this industry was to work at the highest level and on the last day of the season. I’ve had that opportunity a number of times and will always be grateful for it.”

Hughson called his first game on radio in 1979. He has been the voice of the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and national broadcasts on Hockey Night in Canada.

Hughson has called a dozen Stanley Cup Finals along with the men’s hockey tournament at both the 2006 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

“Jim is one of the best this business has ever seen,” said Rob Corte, VP of Sportsnet and NHL Production. “Whether on TV, radio or in video games, for many he has been their soundtrack of hockey. He’s set the gold standard for broadcasting in this country and has accomplished pretty much everything any broadcaster would set out to do in their career. On top of that, he’s a tremendous teammate and an even better person.”

Hughson also was part of the Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcast crew during their World Series runs in 1992 and 1993.

In 2019, the Hockey Hall of Fame awarded Hughson the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award to honour his outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster. He is also a four-time Canadian Screen Awards winner for Best Sports Play-by-Play Announcer.

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Jonathan Drouin's absence from Canadiens late last season, in playoffs due to anxiety – CBC.ca

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Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin has opened up on the reasons why he took a break from hockey last spring during his club’s push for the playoffs.

In interviews aired Monday night on RDS and TVA Sports, Drouin revealed that he was suffering from anxiety and insomnia last season, problems that have afflicted him for years.

The 26-year-old said his problems reached a peak as the team was warming up for its April 23 game in Calgary against the Flames. Drouin was caught on camera looking pale and suddenly leaving the ice to return to the dressing room.

“That week was difficult for me,” Drouin told RDS. “I had fallen ill to the point where I was no longer controlling my body. That was really the moment when I realized that I needed to take a break from hockey, to take a step back.”

He has not played for the Canadiens since, even though the team went all the way to the Stanley Cup final before falling in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I had made the decision to take care of myself. I was happy with my decision. I respected my decision,” Drouin said. “For me, it was just being able to watch them, to give my support to my teammates and coaches. I was so happy with every game we won. The passion never left me.”

Expected on ice to open camp

The athlete from Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., says he has since restored his mental health, and last week he skated with his teammates at the Canadiens’ practice facility.

“I went to find help, I went to find people to be around me,” Drouin recounted to RDS. “Now I understand how it happens, I understand the little moments when I feel anxiety. I am now better equipped than I was before.”

He addressed rumours that he had entered rehab, saying they were false.

“I have never had a drug or alcohol problem,” he said.

He is expected to be on the ice for the Habs’ training camp, which officially kicks off Wednesday, and he commented on his hopes for the upcoming season.

“I am really happy to be back. I just want to have fun and get better every day,” Drouin told RDS. “I know it’s a cliche, but just having fun playing hockey is going to be the best thing for me.”

In 229 regular-season games with the Canadiens, Drouin has 40 goals and 137 points.

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