(First publiced in August 2019)
One of the reasons behind the success of the latest Southland pacing star U May Cullect is Gore born Paul ‘Tank’ Ellis and the beach training he puts into the gelding.
Ellis trains the gelding in partnership with Kirstin Barclay but prefers to let Barclay deal with all the media attention the pacer’s attracting.
Undoubtedly Ellis, and his team of helpers who operate out at the Oreti Beach arm of the operation have played a big part in getting U May Cullect to where he is at the moment.
Ellis has been in the harness game a fair while having started out with Winton trainer Owen Cameron.
“I played for Woodlands (Rugby Club) in the under 18s and a fella called Roy Sloan worked for Owen. I was working at the Makarewa Freezing Works in the season and doing a bit of rousing in the off season. Owen was involved in a race day crash and Roy, who was at practice that night wanted someone to do the boxes so that’s how I got started. Roy ended up leaving so I took over his job,” Ellis said.
After doing his time with Cameron he joined up with Graeme Anderson who at the time was exporting race horses to Australia. Ellis took the opportunity to head across the ditch initially on holiday before it turned into work.
“I was with Greg Harpur for eight years. I travelled all over the place with Jay Bee’s Fella (including) the Miracle Mile and Interdominions. He was the best horse I’d had anything to do with as far as speed goes until U May Cullect.”
Jay Bee’s Fella qualified for Blake Eskdale and won his first start at Winton in March 1985 after which he was sold to Harpur.
He did return to New Zealand a couple of times during his career, winning the Lion Red Semi Final at the end of March 1987 before winning the $200,000 final a week later, beating another Southland pacer Lord Lenny. He was driven both times by Peter Wolfenden.
Jay Bee’s Fella returned to Auckland at Christmas time in the same year and after winning the Benson and Hedges Flying Mile he ran twelvth in the 1987 Auckland Cup – won by Luxury Liner.
In Australia his big race wins were in the 1988 Moonee Valley Pacing Cup and a heat of the 1988 Interdominion Pacing Championships. He also ran third in the 1987 Miracle Mile won by Village Kid.
Since the 1999 season Ellis has had his own training license with his first winner coming at Ascot Park in April of that year when Last Deal won, driven by Brendon Scobie.
Over those early years Ellis trained some nice horses including Elrae Night (5), Southern Motoring (6), Montecrengle (3), Candy’s Dream (3) and Idle Bones (6).
It was after he sold Idle Bones to Brent Mangos that he started to think about moving from Canterbury to Southland.
“Ox (Trainer Wayne Ewan) and I had a yarn one day when I was in Christchurch. He was getting real busy with his work. Ox said about coming down here and by going to his place at Ryal Bush I could have my horses in work for nothing. When he was away I’d just do his horse in amongst mine. I said that if I was down there I wanted to beach train.”
Consequently they drove around looking for suitable beach training establishments and came across Murray Little’s property on Pitt Road close to Oreti Beach.
Late in the 2016-2017 season Ellis started training from Pitt Road, and two of his four winners that season were owned by Little.
Shezacullengirl – one of the early Oreti Beach trained winners for Tank Ellis – Photo Bruce Stewart.
In the meantime McEwan’s place was put on the market and it was expected to sell.
“At that point we had quite a good team of young horses in work and they were going to Kirstin’s. I thought if Ox’s property sells I’ll end up having nowhere to train so one night I had a yarn to Kirstin and the partnership started.”
“Murray’s been unreal.”
Murray Little’s property consists of 10 acres, all deer fenced with a small 400 metre jog track.
The Little property on Pitt Road – Photo Bruce Stewart
The Richardson Group own the neighbouring property and because McEwan works for the Group he was able to arrange access through the Richardson property to Oreti Beach.
“With the beach you make hay while the sun shines. If it’s good weather you can get them all done. You can do them three or four days in a row because you know you’ve got s…. weather coming up. Then they can have a couple of days off and if anything it helps them. It puts a spring in their step.”
Tank Ellis with Wee Man Trouble and U May Cullect – Photo Bruce Stewart
Ellis says the young horses get educated at the Tisbury property while the race horses are based at the beach.
“Once they’ve qualified and are sensible enough to handle beach training they come out here. Murray, Ox and Tom (U May Cullect’s owner Tom Kilkelly) have just got in behind us. It’s been unreal.”
Ellis also has a great band of helpers with experienced horseman Paul Hillis assisted by Colin Lindsay to name just two.
“Colin worked for Sally McKay. He’s retired. He raced Campagna Park and does our jog frame. He’s worth his weight in gold. Kirstin and I have our names in the book but it’s such a team effort. As for Hilly you can’t keep him away. You say be here at 6.00 and he’s here at 5:30. You’ve got to get here early before he starts doing something he shouldn’t. In a good way.”
Paul Hillis and Wee Man Trouble – Photo Bruce Stewart.
And Ellis says the partnership and the two property set-up is working extremely well.
“She (Kirstin) concentrates on the horses at her place but when the tides right she’ll come out here. It could be five the morning. Everything changes with the tide. I do a jog team here, then go over there to do boxes and then we’ve both come back here to work horses.”
He says the beach is different every day and there’s only a small handful of trainers using it, including galloping trainers Stu Higgins Amanda Swartz and Sabin Kirkland.
“I love getting the early tide when there’s no one around. Christmas time is an absolute nightmare. But it’s everybody’s beach. Hilly fires up sometimes but people like to bring their dogs down.”
And as for the stable star U May Cullect?
“No tricks to him. He’s just the easiest horse to train.”
The day I saw him working on the beach he was wearing a hood and looked very relaxed and at home.
“He probably doesn’t need it but it keeps him chilled out and relaxed.”
U May Cullect with Kirstin Barclay galloping on Oreti Beach – Photo Bruce Stewart
Although he can easily get competitive.
“Wee Man Trouble was on the lead one day and he was going stupid. Old Carlos (U May Cullect) got on the bit and he just switched into that horse.”
Ellis says the six year old is a natural pacer but can also trot.
“You should see him in the paddock. He’s got so much style. He’d make a lovely trotter. He’s so little on his feet.”
And there’s been no sign of any leg issues that plagued the horse early in his career.
“We got him scanned when he came back in work and there’s been no drama; touch wood. Since he’s been down here he’s never had a lame day. I don’t like to hose them down. After being in the salt water you feel your own legs tighten up. It’s got to be good for you.”
In the surf after a training run – Photo Bruce Stewart
Getting his gear off – Photo Bruce Stewart
And the good news is that the winner of his first seven starts isn’t too far away from resuming.
“Three or four week just playing round like this and he’ll be pretty good.”
The plan at the moment is to take him to the workouts at the end of September and look at starting his racing season at Winton on the 8th October.
“We haven’t got a finite plan. The Hannons is our first aim and we’ll just take it from there. We’re pretty cruisey about it all really. The horse will let us know. He’s an athlete. He doesn’t need much work.”