The rise of Gordon Elliott had seemed remarkable until the extraordinary nature of his fall.
He had broken the mould and stood on the verge of sporting history. Now the Irish racehorse trainer faces anger, criticism and an inquiry after a photo was shared on social media of him straddling a dead horse.
So how did a man with no childhood background in racing go on to become one of its highest-profile figures?
When fresh-faced Elliott saddled Silver Birch to win the Grand National at Aintree in 2007, he was the youngest – at 29 – to ever do so. He had yet to enjoy a winner in his homeland.
Among the first to congratulate him was retired record-breaking trainer Martin Pipe, who had once employed him as a jockey at his Somerset stables.
Reviving the career of a fragile horse on a seemingly downward trajectory after winning the Welsh Grand National for respected British champion trainer Paul Nicholls was a notable feat.
Elliott said he would celebrate with pints – of champagne – and there were plenty of parties to come as the winners flowed following the move to purpose-built stables in County Meath.
He was supported by a small band of trusted friends and recruited an able and committed young team.
There was a Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph with Don Cossack in 2016 and further support from winning owner Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss, who moved around a third of his horses to him in a split with Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins.
Elliott finished ahead of the established training greats of Mullins, Nicholls and Nicky Henderson to become top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival meeting in 2017 and 2018.
Then he guided Tiger Roll – the smallest horse in the race, with the oldest jockey Davy Russell – to consecutive National wins.
The question was how did he do it?
After his last Aintree success, O’Leary said: “Gordon is the answer to everyone else who says you need to have luck or relations or money. He proves you just need to work incredibly hard, and he delivers extraordinary results.”
Work hard, play hard.
A clip of an exuberant Elliott and Russell serenading Tiger Roll in his stable went viral after the pair sang the ‘eye of the tiger’ chorus from Katy Perry’s song Roar.
Elliott was more recently romantically linked with Kate Harrington, the daughter of Gold Cup-winning trainer Jessica and her assistant trainer.
He appeared to have recovered from contracting Covid-19 over the festive period and a blip in the form of his runners.
Why an old photo would be leaked now and who took it remain questions for an inquiry by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board along with whether he will be given the chance to send Tiger Roll out to bid for a record-equalling third National win in April.
Racing’s rumour mill is in overdrive. Shortly before the photo emerged, he dismissed talk that he had invited friends to a makeshift pub at his stables, saying a video clip was taken a year ago.
Someone may have it in for the determined and ambitious Elliott, but he is in a plight of his own making.
His explanation that he had taken a phone call and sat down on the horse “without thinking” has garnered little sympathy.
Horse Racing Ireland said the photo was a “disservice” to people in racing. Their British counterparts called it appalling.
While O’Leary has offered support, Elliott now faces an uncertain future.
He is 43 on Tuesday. It is likely to be an unusually sombre birthday.