This month marks the 26th anniversary of Ann Ellis first becoming involved in owning racehorses.
That was initially on the Flat, but her heart has always been in jump racing, and she has experienced
all the highs and lows that come with it.
The latest thrill came over the Christmas period when Cracking Find – a horse who first caught her attention whilst doing the ironing – landed the Castleford Chase at Wetherby.
Horses have always been part of her and her family’s life, and explaining her background interest, she says: “I’ve always loved horses and in childhood and teenage years we always attended
“I learned to ride in Boston Spa and at school in North Yorkshire, always in a yellow polo neck jersey. Perhaps that’s why my colours are yellow with maroon braces, yellow sleeves and cap.
“I did have a pony later, but remember it was rather lonely going off on your own.
“Times changed with my daughters; the eldest had one half of Henry – I’m not sure which half – and then she decided she was allergic to horses.
“My youngest had ponies that increased in size: William, who gave her some wonderful days hunting
with the Rockwood; to Candy, pony club enthusiast; then Foxy, a chestnut mare ex-racehorse who was fearless over obstacles, and that gave her confidence; finally Sam, who she really enjoyed eventing.”
But when the children progressed to work and university, Ann became restless.
She continues: “I then had withdrawal symptoms, no horse around, and was given the opportunity to join a syndicate run by William Haggas named The Flying Fillies in February 1993; we had success with Mazilla and Balmaha, and there the seeds were sown. I’ve never looked back.”
Haggas, of course, is one of the leading trainers in Flat racing’s headquarters, Newmarket, but ultimately it was jump racing that would come to dominate Ann’s ownership interests.
“I have experienced Flat racing, but my heart is in the jumping world,” she admits. “Things like being told you haven’t a hope when drawn badly at Bath took the fun out of it for me. I won’t go back to the Flat.
“With jumpers you’ve time over the years to really get to know the horse, their foibles and characteristics. I find Flat racing too short term, and not having any flat fields, living in the
Pennines, it’s not suitable land for retiring such horses.”
Following that toe in the water in February 1993 came the next steps, and Ann recalls: “I became a registered owner in July 1994. The syndicate closed in April 1995, and my next venture was a partnership with Sue Waite.
“We bought Ballyline at Doncaster, and he was put in training with Tom Kemp in Berwickshire on the
recommendation of a friend. He was ridden by Brendan Powell snr in many of his races and we had lots of fun and success, including a second place to Cyfor Malta in the John Hughes at Aintree in April 1998, when he led all the way round to the last fence. We had four wins and 17 places in his
career. That was a huge thrill.”
She continues: “I set up a small syndicate with some Yorkshire friends and we enjoyed success with a few horses, including Filey Brigg, who won the Hilary Needler at Beverley and ran in the Queen Mary at Ascot. I don’t spend a lot on horses, and one headline around the time of Royal Ascot described her as ‘The filly that cost less than a fancy frock’.
“Ballyline sustained an injury and as Tom was moving back down to Kent, I was very pleased that Brendan Powell snr, who had just set up training in Lambourn, agreed to take him. However, he never quite regained the zest for racing.
“I continued to have horses, in sole ownership, with Brendan, experiencing some excellent days out with Tora Bora, who notched seven wins, including at Ascot in 2008, Mandingo Chief, who gained three wins and 13 places and then went point-to-pointing, War Footing – stable name was ‘Warfarin’
in sympathy with his owner’s problem – Ballyaahbut, Well Actually and Xamborough.
“I continued with Bennys Well in 2011. He won seven times and was placed on 11 occasions. My sister joined me in a partnership with Naughty Naughty, who gave us two wins and six places before unfortunately sustaining a fatal injury at Punchestown.
“We followed on with Glen Countess, a lovely mare who was very consistent, having seven wins and 12 places in her career. She is now in Ireland at The Beeches Stud, having had a colt foal by Kayf Tara in 2017 and a filly by Flemensfirth in 2018.”
Because she doesn’t breed horses and doesn’t tend to buy youngsters, most of her horses are already named by the time she acquires them. Ballyaahbut was an exception, along with Naughty Naughty, Pardon What and Park Lodge.
“Ballyaahbut came after Ballyline and one of my children always answered back with ‘ah, but’, while
I was always telling my son to say ‘pardon’, not ‘what’, which explains those two,” she says.
“Park Lodge was named after the house I grew up in, while my sister thought I’d been naughty to tempt her into a partnership, so we chose Naughty Naughty – commentators liked her!”
Ann prefers her horses to be part of a smaller yard, where, she feels, individual attention is more likely.
She explains: “My priority in choosing a trainer for my horses is very simple – I have never wanted to be part of a large yard.
“I want to be secure in the knowledge that those in charge really do know the individual horses in their care. Also, we have to enjoy ourselves; smile when things don’t quite work out as planned, and really appreciate the good times.
“Most importantly, being 100% certain in your mind the horses are in excellent care. I have only two rules with a trainer - never to plait the mane and tail, and never to put fancy patterns on their hindquarters.”
She continues: “In May 2013 I approached Sue Smith shortly before her wonderful win with Auroras
Encore in the Grand National, and subsequently moved Bennys Well up north, followed by Glen Countess.
“Living in Yorkshire, I found the travelling down to Lambourn becoming very difficult with the increase in traffic, etc. Sue took them on and, making the most of the excellent facilities and huge
open spaces for varied work, we’ve had more success.
“In my opinion Harvey Smith is very good at finding nice horses at sensible prices, and I’ve continued to have great fun with some excellent horses.
“Emral Silk won his first race for me by 13 lengths, following up with another win and two places, before tragically breaking a foreleg at Southwell in May 2015.
“Vendor had one win and six places in my ownership. He now runs in Sue’s name and has returned to the racecourse after two years off with an injury.
“The Smiths’ knowledge and understanding of horses is incredible, and this is reflected in their wellbeing shown every time on the racecourse.
“The horse comes first and little things matter to them. They immediately pick up any problem a
horse may have, be it in body or mind.”
Bringing us up to speed with her current star, who is unusual for Ann in being more a two-mile than threemile chaser, she says: “Harvey bought Cracking Find in 2016 and I first saw him win at Uttoxeter whilst doing the ironing at home. I enquired of Sue if he was for sale. Fortunately he was, I
went to see him, and he’s given us such thrills.
“He’s remarkably consistent – last season from eight runs he won three times, was third three times and came fifth and sixth. He was never out of the prize-money, all but on one occasion ridden by Danny Cook.
“As we speak this season has been along the same lines, four runs so far, with two seconds and a third, ridden by Danny, plus the success at Wetherby in the Castleford Chase in the hands of
Sean Quinlan, Danny being unavailable.
“We really couldn’t ask for more in a horse. I appreciate how lucky I am to have him in the care of Sue, Harvey and Ryan [Clavin], the assistant trainer.
“I have experienced many of the good times over the years, but also the ghastly moments, such as knowing that Xamborough, Emral Silk and Naughty Naughty weren’t returning home.
“To see an empty bridle being carried towards you is horrific. It really affects you deep down for a long time, you never forget and are so thankful when the horses return safe and sound.
“The highlights come every time you have the opportunity to see them on the racecourse, be it attending Royal Ascot with a runner, winning a hurdle race at Ascot, winning at Haydock Park,
or Catterick, etc. It’s always a thrill.”
Ann sees the bigger picture too, knowing the few minutes of a horse racing are just a very small part of being an owner.
She says: “For some time I’ve supported the British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre at Whinney Hill in Lancashire, but I have not needed to avail myself of their excellent facilities yet. My horses have gone on to do a variety of things after racing – polo, hunting, general hacks and point-to-pointing.
“I send a circular to over 40 friends who are avid followers of my horses. This missive gives details before and after the race, to all parts of Britain, Australia, USA and worldwide.
“It’s lovely sharing the experience; I give them a true picture of all the ups and downs of this wonderful sport.
“Every time I have a runner, or visit the yard, I provide sustenance for everyone. Reece [Jarosiewicz], the travelling head lad, tells me lemon drizzle cake is the favourite choice. It’s a small example of the benefits, and what one can do in being part of a smaller yard.”
Whether Cracking Find is partial to lemon drizzle cake, his owner didn’t let on, but whatever his diet, it’s certainly doing him no harm, and hopefully 2019 will be another cracking year.