Te Akau principal David Ellis, who received the Outstanding Contribution to Racing Award in 2017, has added further distinction to his lifetime of work within New Zealand’s thoroughbred racing industry with his appointment as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Ellis received letters of notification from the Prime Minister and Governor General that he had this honour confirmed by Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of his services to the thoroughbred industry.
“It’s very humbling and somewhat overwhelming to be honoured by your Queen and country, that’s for sure,” Ellis said.
“My grandfather received the equivalent honour (CBE) for services to the business community 52 years ago and my father was also honoured with the Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for services to the community in 1991.
“I had no idea whatsoever and it was a huge shock to receive notification a couple of months ago. We were in lockdown at the farm and I was actually in the office selling the final shares in a filly from Karaka, when an email arrived in my Inbox from the Honours’ Unit.
“I think it is an incredible privilege to be recognised for services to the thoroughbred racing industry, an industry that has been my passion for nearly 50 years and will be until my dying day,” Ellis said.
Ellis is a thoroughbred breeder, buyer, owner, syndicator, administrator, sponsor, stud master, punter, and operates premiership-winning stables in two countries – New Zealand and Singapore, with an increasing presence planned for Australia in the spring.
He is a passionate promoter of New Zealand thoroughbreds and the NZ brand and contributes immensely to his local area, Te Akau, especially supporting young farmers with advice and guidance. He is also Co-Patron with his wife Karyn Fenton-Ellis MNZM of Riding for the Disabled (RDA Hamilton).
Ellis’ record of voluntary service to thoroughbred racing is well acknowledged in his Royal Honour. He is a Life Member of the Waikato Racing Club, after being a Board member for 18 years, including five years as Chairman, while he also spent seven years on the NZ Racing Conference/NZTR Executive and served as a member of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing Board.
Brought up rurally in Pakuranga, and a member of the Howick Pony Club, Ellis boarded from the age of nine and represented King’s College Auckland, at rugby, cricket, swimming and rowing.
He developed a love of animals and farming life and decided his future in his first year out of school when attending the Flock House Agricultural College in Bulls, where the principal was ex All Black coach JJ Stewart. He followed with a Diploma Degree in Agriculture, which required three years practical farming experience, from Massey University.
After working various jobs around the clock for four years, Ellis purchased 500 acres in the mid 1970s at Waimai Valley. In 1981 he bought a neighbouring farm to develop Te Akau Stud which has grown to 4000 acres with 2500 cattle on and over 4000 sheep, including about 3000 breeding ewes. His farm and racing operations in both New Zealand and Singapore, proudly carry the name of the small rural district where he and his wife Karyn reside.
Ellis celebrated his first Group One winner as an owner when Cosmetique won the 1986 Gr.1 Easter Handicap (1600m) at Ellerslie, while in 2009 he was honoured at the Waikato Business Excellence Awards with the Gallagher Group Agriculture and Primary Production Award.
“I’ve often said to people that I don’t feel that I go to work because, put simply, I love racing and farming. I think the strength of my passion for those two industries has not only helped me put as much into it as I can, but also enabled me to provide employment and careers for many people, especially young people.”
Te Akau Racing and Te Akau Stud combined currently employs 85 people.
“I feel the honour also recognizes the incredible contribution from everyone that has worked for Te Akau over the years and presently,” Ellis said. “The thoroughbred industry is extremely hands-on and I truly believe that I am accepting this recognition on behalf of the team, and what a team Te Akau has.
“Karyn (Fenton-Ellis MNZM), my wife, has already received a Queen’s Honour for services to Racing, Arts, and the Community. She is a massively important part of my life and our business and I couldn’t do what we do without her. Last year we bought and sold 70 horses and I couldn’t have done that without her help.
Dubbed the ‘King of Karaka’, Ellis retained his mantle as leading buyer for the 15th consecutive year at the completion of the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales Series in January at Karaka.
Going back to 2004, Ellis upped the ante when purchasing a Danehill – Grand Echezeaux yearling colt for $1.1m, from the draft of Pencarrow Stud, at Karaka. Bought on spec, Ellis was able to articulate the vision of what he was trying to achieve in strengthening and enhancing the NZ industry and put a syndicate of owners together in 24-hours.
Named Darci Brahma, he was trained by Mark Walker to win five Group Ones in New Zealand and Australia and notched Champion Two-Year-Old, Champion Three-Year-Old, and Champion Sprinter-Miler as a four-year-old before becoming a multiple Champion Stallion and leading sire in the New Zealand breeding industry.
Since then, Ellis has purchased other yearling colts for syndication that raced with distinction at the highest level and seven have gone on to stand at stud in New Zealand and Australia. Stallions like the late Burgundy, Embellish, Rock ‘N’ Pop, Xtravagant and Heroic Valour, both standing in Australia.
David Ellis (left) with Te Akau Racing trainer Jamie Richards at the National Yearling Sale at Karaka
Photo: Trish Dunell
Ellis has bought an enormous number of athletic and top-performing thoroughbreds, encouraged hundreds of new owners into the industry, while between horses and staff they have won over 40 champion titles.
“I was frustrated seeing our top bloodstock leaving New Zealand because I think it’s important for race-goers to see the best of our breed race in New Zealand, before they race in Australia and other countries,” Ellis said.
Another ambassador of the New Zealand thoroughbred industry, New Zealand Bloodstock Chairman Joe Walls spends plenty of time working with Ellis and the pair have formed a great friendship.
“I can’t think of anyone more fitting in the industry for this honour to be bestowed upon,” Walls said. “He’s been a tireless worker in all facets, whether racing administration, or community, and he’s grown his racing business to great proportions.
“He’s supported breeders by buying yearlings every year in record numbers and record values, and there is no one in the modern era that I can think of who would be more worthy.
“A lot of people don’t know David or DC, as we call him, but he has got a kind heart. He’s very generous and a bloke that looks after his fellow man. He’s always been very good to his staff and there are very few chinks in DC’s armour if you know him well.
“I’ve known him for what must be 40 years, from when he started at Te Akau. I remember him giving me a call to go out there. I wondered where I was going, out to the coast somewhere. I got to his farm, which wasn’t as magnificent as it is today. He really was raw and didn’t have much idea about horses, but he listened.
“We formed a good relationship in all sorts of avenues. He has always been very loyal and I can’t speak highly enough about him. He’s firm but I think he’s fair and I think he has shown that in all the industry components and positions he’s been involved in. He has a very good grasp of the industry.
“He has put together this marvellous business which is Te Akau Racing. It’s world-class and he’s got a lot of very good people around him. Karyn, Mark Walker, Jamie Richards, even his vets and other industry professionals. “Importantly for New Zealand, DC is recognised all over the world for what he has accomplished and continues to achieve.”