Brian Ellison is understated in every way, hiding his deserved reputation for rejuvenating and improving horses both for flat racing and National Hunt. Living North has a particularly special relationship with the trainer, having presented him with the Living North White Rose Award, after he successfully trained the Ebor-winning Moyenne Corniche back in 2011. His current stable star, Definitly Red, is looking like one to watch in April’s Grand National at Aintree – having bolted up in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster, winning by 14 lengths, he’s second favourite in the ante-post betting, at the time of writing.
How long have you called Yorkshire home now?
I was small and light when I was 15 so I applied for a job in racing and moved to Middleham, before going to Seahouses on the Northumbrian coast for a while then coming back. I trained in Malton from 1989 to 1995, moved back to the North East for five years, then had the opportunity to buy Spring Cottage Stables in 2000. I’ve been here ever since.
But you’re from the North East originally?
Yes, I was brought up on Armstrong Road in Newcastle.
What’s the atmosphere like in Malton with so many trainers close by – is there much rivalry?
Not really – everybody gets on well with each other. We only really see each other on the gallops or racing, but we all get on.
Why have so many trainers gravitated towards the area?
The gallops are really good – we’ve got five furlong gallops, six furlong gallops, a mile-and-a-half gallops, all-weather gallops, and a full time gallop man so everything’s there for you.
Were you a jockey before you became a trainer?
Yes. When I first started out in racing at age 15 at Harry Blackshaw’s in Middleham, I couldn’t ride, but I rode my first winner at 17. I started riding over jumps, became Head Lad, then Travelling Head Lad. I assisted Don Eddy and Nigel Tinkler, then eventually became a trainer.
Can you remember your first winners?
My first winners as both a jockey and a trainer were both at Hexham. I’d had a winner at Worcester in a bumper, but it got disqualified.
Are there any other races that stick in your mind over the course of your career?
When I was a jockey, I ran against Tingle Creek and beat him – so that was one of my best rides. As a trainer, I’ve had winners at Royal Ascot, had a couple of horses in the Melbourne Cup in Australia and then went to Perth over there, and was just beaten by a neck in their big race, so there have been a few highlights.
Has much changed since you started out? How might someone get into racing now?
If you want to get into it now, you have to go to the racing schools which are at Doncaster and Newmarket. You go there for a few months and they’ll find you a job. You have to be fit, and a lot depends on your weight – if you’re struggling with it, that can be a problem, but if you’re naturally light, it’s a bit easier.
What would you have done if you hadn’t gone into racing?
I’d probably have gone into boxing – I used to love it and did it for a long time. I did a lot of training for it when I was a jockey for fitness, so would probably have looked into getting into that.
Where are some of your favourite courses?
York’s one of my favourites – I love that course. I won the Ebor there as a trainer which was great.
Tell me about Definitly Red. What are his chances of featuring in the Grand National looking like?
We’ll get the Grand National-style fences put up here, and if he schools over them alright, then he’ll probably run.
Any other stable stars we should look out for?
I’ve got three or four running at Cheltenham in March – Forest Bihan runs in the Arkle, he’s won two out of three over fences, Sam’s Adventure runs in the Bumper, he’s won three out of four and Nietzsche runs in the Fred Winter, he’s won three this year.
How does a racehorse trainer relax?
It’s pretty much a 24-hour job. I’ve got 130 horses here so I’m always busy, but I like to get something to eat when I’m racing – I meet up with owners and go out, but not so much when I’m at home.
What food could you never live without?
I love meat so probably steak.
And a favourite drink?
I like a red wine.
Last racecourse you were at?
I was at Newcastle last Saturday.
And the next one you’ll be at?
I’ll be at Doncaster soon.