What They're Thinking: David Ellis

Date: 17 May 2022

What They're Thinking: David Ellis


thoroughbredracing.com reports:


David Ellis: What you need is passion, hard work, determination, drive, innovation, attitude - and did I say hard work?

New Zealand bloodstock maestro David Ellis, head of the hugely successful Te Akau operation, answers the questions

David Ellis is the founder and principal of the highly successful international racing operation, Te Akau Racing, New Zealand's leading stable.

Ellis, 68, set up Te Akau after celebrating his first big win as an owner in 1986, inviting others to take shares in horses he had bought. To date there have been more than 2,000 winners, over 70 at G1 level with horses such as Darci Brahma, Princess Coup, Xtravagant, Gingernuts, Avantage, Melody Belle, Probabeel and Te Akau Shark.

Te Akau has stables in Matamata, New Zealand and Kranji racecourse in Singapore, which between them have won ten training titles, as well as a 4,000-acre stud in Waikato. Earlier this year Mark Walker returned from Singapore to take over as Te Akau's NZ trainer Jamie Richards, who is relocating to Hong Kong after winning the last two premierships by huge margins.

Donna Logan is now at the helm at Kranji. Ellis was recognised in the 2020 Queen's birthday honours as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Which racing figure past or present do you most admire?

I admire many industry figures past and present, and for a diverse array of reasons, so it's very difficult to single out one individual. Those who are successful in this industry have a number of common denominators, or attributes that are catalysts for success - passion, hard work, determination, drive, innovation, attitude - and did I say hard work? All in spadefuls.

However, when I was young, Hall of Fame trainer Colin Jillings took me under his wing and encouraged me, inspired me and taught me so much about the industry and the skill of being a trainer. He had an amazing ability to understand and get in its head. I will be forever grateful to him for his friendship and the knowledge he shared with me.

Which is your favourite venue and race anywhere in the world?

I would have to say Te Rapa, home of the Waikato Racing Club. I have had world-class racing experiences at tracks such as Ellerslie, Royal Ascot, Churchill Downs, Randwick - from Dubai to the USA and so many others.

However, there is always something special about your ‘home track'. I spent many years involved with this club starting as a young steward, then board member, followed by five years as chairman and now life member (along with my wife Karyn who is also a former chairman of the club and a life member too).

We also sponsor a Group race there - it has a special place in my heart, both our hearts. Favourite race - the NZ 2,000/1,000 Guineas, which we have won 13 times.

She's a record breaker: 14-time G1 winner Melody Belle. Photo: Trish DunellWho is your favourite racehorse and why?

I have bought many top-class racehorses including 14-time Group 1 winner Melody Belle and nine-time G1 winner Avantage, who both will produce first foals next season. There are other amazing mares such as four-time G1 winners Princess Coup and Probabeel - as well as horses such as Darci Brahma, Burgundy, Embellish, Xtravagant, Heroic Valour and Cool Aza Beel, which are all stallions I bought as yearlings and Te Akau trained.

Waiting in the stallion wings are Noverre, Sword Of State and Dynastic (who won our sixth Karaka 2YO Million in a row). I suppose that the G1 winners this season that my wife Karyn [Fenton-Ellis MNZM] and I have bred in Maven Belle and Belle En Rouge (the latter also joint-NZ Bloodstock filly of the year) hold a very special place in our lives, as does Distinctly Secret, another G1 winner that I bred and raced.

What is your fondest memory in racing?

Attending the Auckland Racing Club's Ellerslie track as a youthful 17-year-old with very few dollars in my back pocket. The whole experience of the day changed my life - it did help that my cash balance was a lot better at the end of the day!

Seriously, everything about that day made a significant impact on me, the horses and the humans and I decided then and there that this was where my future lay.  In more recent times, winning back-to-back G1 races at Royal Randwick with Te Akau Shark and Probabeel, as well as a stakes race at Ellerslie the same day.

If you could change one thing in racing, what would it be?

Ensuring the career pathways for young people in the industry are dynamic, attractive, and welcoming. Our emerging talent is the future of this industry and we need to do everything possible through education, information and environment to ensure we attract and retain the very best young people possible. I absolutely love working with these bright young people - their energy, global thinking, initiative and vitality are essential to this industry's viability and to it flourishing in the future.

David Ellis was speaking to Jon Lees


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