by Chris Lomon
It should really come as no surprise that Travis Ellis’ horse racing career has taken flight.
He has been around horses most of his life, but the consideration of a full-time career in standardbred racing had never really crossed his mind, especially when he was dedicated to the pursuit of another job.
“My dad had a pretty good stable in Nova Scotia when I was younger, my mom had horses and my grandfather had horses, so I guess it’s in my blood,” Ellis said. “I had a couple of around five or six horses I owned when I was in Nova Scotia. I had a full-time job back then, and I ended up breaking my knee twice. I got kicked by one of my mares and was out about eight months. So, it was then when I realized I should look at doing something else, so I went back to school to become an airplane mechanic.”
When the company he worked for recently went bankrupt, Ellis had to come up with a new game plan.
And that’s when he recalled an old conversation that he had with a friend in the harness racing game.
“I still had one or two horses on the side, and then I ended up getting out of it for three years,” Ellis said. “Two years ago, I bought into a horse in December, and he ended up getting claimed off us last spring. Once I lost my job, there was no reason I had to stay in Nova Scotia, so I got a hold of [standardbred horseman] Trevor Williams and asked if he was still looking for someone. He had been bugging me for about four or five years to come work for him in Manitoba, and it finally happened.”
Ellis, who started training 14 years ago at Truro Raceway, where he amassed 369 starts along with 45 wins and $48,900 in earnings, wasn’t quite certain how things would pan out in Manitoba.
But the 31-year-old didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Last July, he won the first race of the season at Miami Fair with Perpetual, a daughter of Vertical Horizon.
By the end of the card, Ellis had made five trips to the winner’s circle on the 11-race card.
Not a bad debut, but the encores were even more impressive.
Jay Dees Scooter, a son of Youshouldseemenow, won the first leg of The Golden Boy Stakes. Ellis, who struck paydirt again in the Lady Crocus, winning both divisions of the event for Canadian-owned or -bred 3-year-old pacing fillies, posted 17 wins in four race days at Miami Fair. He concluded the nine-day meet with 41 triumphs, with the highlight coming in the Futurity Final when Irish Melvin took all the spoils in the $24,276 (CDN) race.
“We had around 15 or 17 horses and I never thought I’d be doing the horse thing full-time, but here I am doing it,” Ellis said. “Last year, in Manitoba, we were winning five or six races a day. We had the numbers to do that. We did well in the stakes races out there too. I wouldn’t say there was any particular highlight. I think we just had a solid year all around.”
After making a name for himself at Miami Fair, Ellis trekked further west to compete at Century Downs in Calgary.
It was there where he earned win No. 50 on the campaign when Mystic Dragon took the first race on the Oct. 14 card.
By season’s end, Ellis posted 60 wins, 132 top-three finishes, $231,692 in earnings and a .358 UTRS.
Currently, Ellis and his band of 26 trainees are in Cal-Expo.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Ellis said. “I’ve had great support along the way, at every stop on my career, including the people here with me in California. I have 26 horses with me here. The owners are happy and as long as we keep working hard and having success, it’s all good.”
A slow start to the Cal-Expo meet is now out of sight and out of mind.
“It’s been pretty good,” Ellis said. “It was slow for about a month, month and a half, with no racing for a few weeks because of the rain and our horses weren’t faring that well. But the weather is better and the horses are starting to come around. Towards the end of 2022, we sort of tailed off a bit, but we hadn’t shipped down here and when we did get here, the weather wasn’t cooperating, and I didn’t click as I thought we should have.
“It took some time to adjust to the new feed program — you can’t get the same stuff here that you get back home — and make sure the horses were getting what they need to excel. Since we got that figured out, the first part of the year has been on-point. We’re racing 10-12 a night, so for the most part, everything seems to be firing the way we hoped it would.”
Impressive on all fronts, even more so considering Ellis hadn’t envisioned himself being in such a position.
“I figured I’d just be out in Manitoba for a bit and then go back and figure out the airplane stuff again, but Trevor convinced me to go to Alberta and train for him,” Ellis said. “I went there for eight weeks and raced just over a dozen horses. We had a pretty good run there and that led us to California.”
The hundreds of miles spent in the air and on the roads is time well spent for Ellis, who recently won a pair of stakes at the Sacramento oval, the Alan Horowitz with Flying Officer and the Jack Williams with HF Flower, both on Jan. 22.
Being all over the map, literally, through his racing life, is a welcome opportunity.
“I like to travel,” Ellis said. “When I was working in the airplane industry, I was going to Puerto Rico, Texas, and other places. It was a Canadian-based company, but I got to travel a lot. So, it was work and fun, and there’s no sense working if you can’t have fun. You go from fixing planes to working with horses. I guess it is kind of a different jump. I let the aircraft go to the wayside, but I still have time to decide if I want to go back to it.”
For now, Ellis is content to see how it all plays out.
After Cal-Expo, he’ll head to Running Aces in Minnesota, another chance and another venue to chase success.
“After Cali, we’re taking some to Running Aces and others are going back to Manitoba,” Ellis said. “That’s where the Williams are, so they will be happy to see their horses and eventually race there. Wherever I go, I try to make friends and fit in. I talk to everyone and as long as you can keep people as a friend and not an enemy, it’s all good.”
Horsepower, for the time being, has usurped air power.
And Ellis is fine with that, hard work and all.
“Life is good,” Ellis said. “When I’m not at the track or the barn, I just like hanging out with my friends, have a few beers and enjoy yourself. You don’t get much time away from the horses. My girlfriend and I went home for Christmas for about six or seven days, but you never shut your brain off when you’re away from the horses. You’re wondering how things are going. It is not a 9-5 job, but that goes for any horse person. If it doesn’t feel like work, it’s more of a hobby. That’s how it feels for me.”