Riverina trainerhas reluctantly launched ground-breaking legal action against to recover rehabilitation costs and damages from potential lost earnings over a shocking incident involving his filly Jovial Rock in last year's Leeton Breeders Plate final.
More than 18 months after Sullivan's filly crashed to the track as an odds-on favourite when a false start was belatedly called, a case has been brought before the courts against the state regulator. It featured at Wagga Wagga's District Court on Friday.
Jovial Rock made contact with the mobile and landed on her head, fracturing her upper jaw, which required teeth to be removed as she spent up to five days at Wagga's Charles Sturt University veterinary clinic.
Sullivan maintained he received an apology on the night about the circumstances leading up to Jovial Rock's fall from starter Jamie Hogan, who was stood down for the remainder of the meeting.
A stewards report from the card said the starting lights were accidentally activated instead of those to signify a false start as the mobile lost speed, triggering Jovial Rock to collide with its arm.
Despite Jovial Rock going on to run credible races in the group 1 Australian Pacing Gold and NSW Breeders Challenge two-year-old fillies finals later in the season, Sullivan is adamant the horse is now a nervous wreck every time she goes to the races.
He forfeited nominations fees that had been paid in advance for major races when she spent three months on the sidelines and believes Jovial Rock has never reached her potential since.
He is unsure whether he plans to retire the five-race winner, which has won a tick over $45,000 and hasn't raced since mid-July.
First prize in the 2016 Breeders Plate final, run on New Year's Day, was worth $24,000 alone.
"I was left with no option," Sullivan said of the legal action. "Why should the race be taken away from a $1.50 favourite and she be denied a start? It was bloody horrific. When I got to her I thought she might have been dead, but she was just knocked out. I haven't seen anything like it. It's had an effect on her.
"She didn't compete at Bathurst last year because of her injuries and we only just made the [Australian] Pacing Gold [series] by the skin of our teeth."
But Sullivan's biggest disappointment is the fact Jovial Rock's temperament has completely changed as a result of the fall, which has rendered her a mess every time she is put on a float.
And he wonders how much better her race record would be if not for the Leeton incident.
"She really doesn't travel well and she sweats up and gets nervous," Sullivan said. "It's just changed her whole attitude. At home she couldn't be better, but it's when you travel and go to the races she's just a mess. She just works herself up.
"I took her to the races on a winter's day at Menangle a couple of months ago and I only had a little sheet on her with all the vents open and it was like I had hosed her [she sweated up that badly]. They can't finish off their races like that. It's pretty sad."
By Adam Pengilly