Te Akau: The Empire Ellis built

Date: 27 Oct 2023

Te Akau: The Empire Ellis built


Racing.com's James Tzaferis reports:


David Ellis had dreams of farming sheep and cattle when he first attended the races at Ellerslie more than 40 years ago.

During a rare weekend off form his agricultural studies, Ellis and his then girlfriend ventured to the track for a day that would change the course of his life.

As an animal lover, there's little doubt the horses played a big part in his attraction to racing but perhaps more than anything, a successful day on the punt got him hooked.

"I first went to the races in 1971 at Ellerslie," Ellis said.

"I was at an agricultural farming school nine hours drive south of Auckland.

"I'd worked every weekend up to Easter and the principal of the school said we could have Easter off, so I wrote home to my girlfriend in Auckland and asked what she wanted to do on the weekend.

"In those days you hand wrote letters - there was no such thing as email or mobile phones.

"She wanted to go to the Easter Show on one day and the Ellerslie races on the other.

"I went with $12 in my pocket, which was enough to buy drinks, lunch and have a few bets - I walked out with $84 and I thought 'This has got to be the easiest way of making money' and I was hooked form then on."

Ellis' dream was always to buy his own farm but now, he wanted horses as its centrepiece.

But empire-building from the ground up doesn't come easily or without sacrifice. He completed his studies and balanced three jobs to build his savings.

For a time, work was all he knew.

In 1979, he purchased 575 acres at Waimai Valley and later acquired surrounding properties to set up what is now known as Te Akau Stud.

"I had three jobs - I started at 4:30am in the morning at the freezer works, I finished at 3:30pm in the afternoon and then I started my other job painting houses, inside in the winter, outside in the summer, six days a week," he said.

"On Sundays I used to pour petrol at the service station.

"In 1979, I bought my first farm and in 1983, I went to the yearling sales and bought my first horse.

"I had won my first race a few years earlier in 1978 with a horse called Magnum that I leased from a trainer in Matamata - we were having a drink after it won and he had to go and saddle up another horse, so I was left drinking on my own and thought 'This isn't much fun', so I decided I wanted to race horses with other people.

"I started syndicating them."

It was this desire to share a beer and a laugh with like-minded people after a win that was the catalyst for the birth of Ellis' syndication company Te Akau Racing.



Over the past 30 years, the iconic tangerine colours of Te Akau have claimed all of New Zealand's premier races and many on this side of the Tasman as well.

Group 1 winners Te Akau Nick, Distinctly Secret, Darci Brahma, Gingernuts, Te Akau Shark and Melody Belle are among those who have campaigned successfully in Australia but none have created an impression quite like Imperatriz.

The daughter of I Am Invincible, who was purchased by Ellis for $360,000 at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, has won 18 of her 27 starts, including three wins from only four starts in Australia.

On Saturday, she can again stake her claims as Australasia's premier sprinter with victory in the G1 Manikato Stakes, for which she is rated $1.45 with Sportsbet.

Her rise coincides with Te Akau's expansion into Victoria and Ellis hopes the business can continue to grow in the coming seasons, with the recruitment of new Australian owners a focus for the team.

Young horseman Ben Gleeson is overseeing the operation's Cranbourne base on behalf of champion trainer Mark Walker.



"It's always a big thrill to buy a filly of this class," he said.

"It's great for the owners, the trainers and all the staff, who are so dedicated and incredibly passionate about what they do.

"Absolutely there is more scope to grow Te Akau.

"We want to have 60 horses in work in Melbourne within two years.

"Te Akau has had 92 Group 1 wins and I think I'll get just as much fun out of the 93rd as I did put of the first one.

"I'm probably more passionate about the game now than what I've ever been.

"It's the greatest business in the world."


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