TTR Catches Up with Te Akau's David Ellis

Date: 19 Dec 2023

TTR Catches Up with Te Akau's David Ellis

The Thoroughbred Report writes: 

Very rarely is it a quiet time for the team at Te Akau Racing headed by principal David Ellis CNZM. The operation seems to have an endless supply of quality and progressive gallopers bearing their recognisable and popular tangerine silks.

Fronting new ground in Australia with the opening of its Melbourne stables at Cranbourne, Te Akau treated Victorian racegoers to a spectacle with the deeds of their superstar mare Impertariz (I Am Invincible).

The Mark Walker and Sam Bergerson-trained 5-year-old was faultless in a preparation that started with a bang in the G2 McEwen S. at Moonee Valley and ended in pure dominance down the Flemington straight in the G1 Champions Sprint.

In between, the daughter of I Am Invincible won the G1 Moir S. and the G1 Manikato S. making it a truly memorable campaign for Te Akau Racing and fans alike. Of course, the tangerine silks being carried to big-race success in Australia is not a new thing - Gingernuts (NZ) (Iffraaj {GB}) whisked away the G1 Rosehill Guineas in a short but outstanding career, the Champion mare Melody Belle (NZ) (Commands) in the G1 Empire Rose S. and, the late, but hugely talented Te Akau Shark (NZ) (Rip Van Winkle {Ire}), are just a few.

However, Imperatriz is Te Akau Racing’s first Group 1 winner from their new Cranbourne base. Many pondered and questioned why they chose to stay in Melbourne when there was a $15 million carrot up the highway in the form of The Everest in Sydney at Royal Randwick. Ellis has fronted the question many times before, and for him and his team, it was simply doing what was best for Imperatriz.

“Te Akau Racing’s policy is we always do what’s best for the horse,” Ellis told The Thoroughbred Report.

“We felt keeping Imperatriz in Melbourne was the right thing to do at that point in time. We were also impressed with how Victoria has embraced us and helped us get our Cranbourne stable off the ground, so it was a win-win for everybody.”

Smart colt Diamond dreaming ...

Fast forward to Saturday as New Zealand is about to descend into a thrilling few weeks of racing with events like the G1 Railway S., the G1 Zabeel Classic and the Karaka Millions Raceday on the horizon.

Te Akau Racing has taken the wraps off another exciting juvenile in Move To Strike; like Imperatriz, the colt is a son of Australia’s reigning Champion Sire I Am Invincible and is from a daughter of great late Shamardal (USA).

Also, like his star stablemate, he graduated from the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale. Imperatriz was a $360,000 purchase by David Ellis (BAFNZ) when offered by Bhima Thoroughbreds at the 2020 edition of the sale, while Move To Strike is a graduate from Baramul Stud’s 2023 draft at the sale and cost Ellis (BAFNZ) a cool $525,000.

Move To Strike’s dam is the talented No Evidence Needed. The daughter of Shamardal won six races, including the G2 Let’s Elope S. and the G3 Southern Cross S.

She also filled placings in the G1 Sir Rupert Clarke S. and the G1 Schweppes Oaks.

Reflecting on the result and what initially appealed about Move To Strike on the Gold Coast, Ellis said, “He was Lot 1 on Day 2 of the 2023 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, and I just loved his attitude.

“Move To Strike has one of the best attitudes you could ever see, alongside his pedigree. He is bred on the same cross as Imperatriz, by I Am Invincible, and out of a Shamardal mare. In addition, Move To Strike was just one of most athletic colts you would find.”

Ellis confirmed Move To Strike has Group 1 aspirations in Australia, with the G1 Blue Diamond S. in February next year on the agenda. However, the next stop for the colt will come on New Year’s Day at Pukekohe in the G2 Eclipse S.

“We’re going to run Move To Strike in the Group 2 at Pukekohe on New Year’s Day, and then we’re taking him to Melbourne for the Blue Diamond S.”

Adding to the occasion, the colt was partnered by the Champion Jockey Opie Bosson, who, by winning on Move To Strike, rode his 2000th winner.

“Opie has ridden over forty Group 1s for us. He came to work for Te Akau when he was 14 years old, and he rode his first winner in the tangerine.

“It really was a great thrill for Karyn (Fenton-Ellis) and I, alongside Mark Walker and the rest of the team, to see Opie ride his 2000th winner in the tangerine silks.”

Ellis is a busy man. He’s the principal of one of the most successful racing operations in Australasia, and part of that naturally includes sourcing the next generation of talent to carry the Te Akau Racing silks.

With the sale season imminent, the starting point is the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, which is only weeks away and will swiftly be followed by New Zealand Bloodstock’s Karaka Yearling Sale, Inglis Classic, Premier, and so on. Ellis has been on the road inspecting and narrowing down the often-vast catalogues.

Despite a 1468-lot catalogue compiled for the Gold Coast, it has not perturbed Ellis. If anything, he thrives off it; the more horses to see, the better!

“We will be buying at Magic Millions, Karaka and the Inglis sales. About two weeks ago, we spent a week in the Hunter Valley and at Newhaven Park looking at yearlings.

“We looked at about 600 yearlings at that time. Then tomorrow (Monday), we will start looking at yearlings heading to Karaka, and we’ll be doing four properties in the Cambridge area.”

When asked how long such a process takes, Ellis replied, “I think we probably average about 22 horses an hour. But I’m fortunate because it’s my hobby.

“So, it doesn’t feel like work for me. I love coming out on the farms and seeing the studs, the mares and the yearlings they have; it gives me enormous pleasure. Then, once I've viewed the horses, I can narrow it down, say, for example, the Magic Millions 1200-odd yearlings to 100 shortlisted.

“We then look at those 100, two, three, four times before they enter the ring. I get a lot of pride and pleasure when the horses start their careers on a good note.”

The Magic Millions has been a happy hunting ground for Ellis. Not only has he sourced the aforementioned Imperatriz and Move To Strike from the January sale, but the unbeaten Captured By Love (Written Tycoon), who has already won a Group 2.

Captured By Love was purchased for the Te Akau 2023 Magic Fillies’ Breeding Syndicate as one of a two-filly partnership. The other filly also purchased from the sale is named The Victress, a daughter of Widden Stud’s exciting first-season sire Zousain.

According to Ellis, the $250,000 Coolmore graduate has won a trial at Waikato and is one to follow.

“We assembled a filly and colt syndicate at the Magic Millions this year. They both comprised two horses each and Captured By Love from the filly syndicate had already won a Group 2 last Saturday, and the Zousain filly named The Victress looks very smart.

“While in the colt’s syndicate, we have a son of Snitzel called Unbridled Joy, and he’s won a trial and ran second in another. He’s not far away from going to the races, too. So, it looks like we’ve got some exciting horses to race in the next season.”

Another Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale graduate purchased by Ellis was the exciting sire Sword Of State, a $600,000 purchase. The son of Snitzel won the G1 Sistema S. in a career that netted six victories.

Sword Of State retired to Cambridge Stud and arguably is one of the most exciting sire prospects to stand in New Zealand.

“Sword Of State is one of the most exciting stallions in New Zealand. I was actually in a paddock this morning (Sunday) on the farm with three foals by the sire, and wow! He really could be anything.”

Alongside Sword Of State is the handsome Noverre (NZ). The son of Savabeel was purchased in the same year as Sword Of State, albeit at the 2020 New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Yearling Sale for NZ$800,000.

On the track, Noverre won the G1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas and the G3 War Decree S. before retiring to Waikato Stud, the home of his legendary sire.

“We move onto Karaka from Magic Millions, and I need to find another Noverre because he’s a son of Savabeel. Everybody that’s seen his early progeny is in absolute raptures over them.”

Ellis’ range and versatility in finding the next tangerine star are incredible. When one looks at Te Akau Racing’s honour roll, it’s obvious Ellis has a sharp eye and the ability to envisage the bigger picture rather than what is presented on the day before him.

Ellis isn’t stuck in one category. He’s sourced precious juveniles; Derby winners; horses that excel over sprint trips; classy milers and stayers; champion fillies, mares, geldings and colts that later become sires.

“We’ve had a lot of luck, and it helps when you enjoy it so much,” a humble Ellis told The Thoroughbred Report.

One example of Ellis’ eye is Saturday’s Group 2 winner Campionessa (NZ). The daughter of Contributer (Ire) has won nine races and been placed at the elite-level twice. Campionessa, it’s fair to say, wasn’t the ‘obvious yearling’ at the sales.

She initially failed to meet her reserve of NZ$70,000 offered by Mapperley Stud at the 2019 New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Yearling Sale. Reoffered by Westbury Stud at the 2019 Magic Millions National Yearling Sale, Ellis paid $60,000.

Campionessa has now won NZ$600,000 and is on track for another tilt at Group 1 glory in the Zabeel Classic.

“She won a Group 2 very impressively on Saturday. I bought her at the Magic Millions for $60,000, and she’s come through the race really well, so she’s heading to the Zabeel Classic.

“Campionessa was quite immature at the sales. I could see that she would take 18 months or two-years even to reach her potential. But when you buy these horses, it doesn’t really matter what they look like the day you buy them. You must be able to visualise how they will grow and develop.

“I could imagine Campionessa would grow into a strong athletic mare in time.”

With an eye on the future, Ellis shared a horse to keep an eye on over the next few weeks that could be seen in the autumn in Australia.

“We’ve got some really lovely 2-year-olds coming out in the next couple of weeks. But we’ve also got a horse like Talisker, who I think is a smart horse by Embellish.

“I could see him going to Australia in the autumn for some big races. He was placed in the G1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas. At this point, we’re getting Talisker ready for the NZ$1.5 million Karaka Millions 3YO.”

Ellis also reflected on Entain’s progress and the hugely anticipated return of racing at Ellerslie. The track last held a meeting in March 2022 but is set to return to action on January 14.

“I went to a function at Ellerslie on Thursday night, and I walked a lot of the track, and it’s quite incredible. It looked amazing, and we can’t wait to return. It’s going to be a massive success for our whole industry.

“Since we’ve had Entain involved, racing in New Zealand has become really exciting. They’re promoting racing properly, and The Trackside has gone to a new level. In addition, the stakes have risen to levels that I never dreamt would be possible.”

“Entain is just such a professional company, and everybody in New Zealand is just blown away with what they’re doing.

“It’s really exciting, and without Entain, I hate to think where the New Zealand industry would have been without them, but now they’re here, and it’s onwards and upwards!

“It’s a great time to invest in New Zealand racing, that’s for sure.”

Despite all the success on the racetrack by the Te Akau Racing team, the ever-humble Ellis, prefers to put down the results to luck and a result of loving what you do.

“I’ve just been lucky and fortunate to have my hobby as my job.”

- Keely Mckitterick


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