Nothing will ever top the day trainer Tom Ellis married jockey Gina Andrews, but he admits it would be a “dream” result if his wife could secure the couple their biggest success on the racecourse aboard Latenightpass in the Randox Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree on day one of the Randox Grand National Festival (Thursday 7th April).
After being campaigned exclusively on the point-to-point circuit this term Latenightpass, will now bid to fulfil his main aim of the season when attempting to go one better than 12 months ago over the Grand National fences in the 2m 5f contest for amateur jockeys.
In order to maximise the nine year old’s chances of victory at Aintree, the decision was made to bypass the St James’s Place Festival Hunters Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, a call Ellis hopes will now be vindicated next week.
Latenightpass, who was homebred by Ellis’ mum Pippa, will head to Aintree in winning form following a facile success under Andrews at Charm Park in North Yorkshire on 6th March. The Passing Glance gelding was previously successful at Alnwick in December before parting company with Andrews at the same venue in January.
Ellis said: “Latenightpass is in good form at home and he has had a wind operation since he won his last point-to-point.
“We gave Cheltenham a miss this year in order to go to Aintree nice and fresh. We just felt after finishing second at Aintree last year that we perhaps left our Aintree race at Cheltenham.
“We thought it would be a good idea to give that a miss this time and luckily enough we had a couple of others to go there and it seemed a better option for Latenightpass to go to Aintree.
“They either take to the Aintree fences or they don’t but he has been a very sound jumper right from the word go so it wasn’t a total surprise that he took to the fences last year.
“You are always hoping they enjoy it and he seemed to get better the further he went so it gives us a bit of confidence going back there.
“We had a bit of a mishap up at Alnwick where he tipped up at the last on his second start this season but other than that everything has gone according to plan and we are happy enough really.
“We are lucky that we have got a lot of nice horses in the yard and to have one like him that can fly the flag on a big day is great really and it would be a dream result if he won.
“It is extra special that Gina rides all the horses while the horse is owned and bred by my mum as well. It would be a great thing for the family to go there and win.
“I’ve not even thought about winning but of course it would be our biggest winner as a team without a doubt but there is a lot of water to pass under the bridge between now and then.”
While the couple, who are based at Marton in Warwickshire, have now been happily married for the past seven years Ellis admits it was not love at first sight with their initial encounter being quite the opposite.
However, there is no other person Ellis, who is a farmer by trade, would now wish to have by his side both in and out of the saddle with him full of praise for his spouse.
He added: “I first saw Gina down at the starting tapes at a point-to-point race at Dingley.
“I thought here is this 16 year old girl they have let loose and I’m going to find out what she will do but hopefully she will keep out the way. To say it was love at first sight might be the wrong thing to say!
“I’m going to keep the proposal secret. However, I remember our wedding day well though as I had broken my leg in a point-to-point at Mollington six weeks before the big day, so I got married with crutches as I was on them for 16 weeks.
“Gina’s record speaks for itself and she has literally re-written the record books. From my angle, having someone with her experience to call upon every time we run a horse is great and is a big pull to our owners. I’m very lucky to have her.
“Horses really jump for her and she is just a very gifted rider while she has got an extremely good clock in her head.”
Although Ellis’ focus is now on training horses rather than doing the steering in the saddle, the 37 year old insists that riding over the Grand National fences remains the best feeling he has ever had on horseback.
He added: “In my riding career the best feeling I had on a horse still would be going around Aintree.
“I’ve been lucky enough to train a double at Cheltenham on their hunter chase evening but Aintree is a very unique test of horse and jockey. You don’t get as many days there and you need the right type of horse for it with plenty of luck.
“The day I finished third aboard Rash Move in the Foxhunters’ for Fred Hutsby in 2013 was the day Latenightpass was born so in some ways you could say that this is meant to be, while I also rode his mum Latenightdip to victory on three occasions.”
It has already been a season to remember for Andrews, who on New Year’s Eve eclipsed Polly Gundry’s record of 303 winners to become the winning most female British point-to-point rider of all-time aboard Fumet D’Oudairies at Horseheath.
Despite being one of the most experienced riders in the field, the 30 year old insists that her pre-race nerves will still be “terrible”, but admits having another spin over the Grand National fences is an experience she is looking forward to once again.
Andrews said: “I’ve had a few goes over them now and it is a really good buzz. I think before I rode Latenightpass I had ridden around there a few times but had never really been competitive.
“There is nothing like riding around there and I think it is the best place to ride. I’ve really enjoyed it each time I’ve done it and hopefully he will go well around there again and possibly go one better than last year.
“I’ve ridden all different types around there. You need an accurate jumper around there not an exuberant scopey jumper as sometimes they get caught out. He tends to be quite accurate fingers crossed.
“The nerves will be the same as normal I expect which is terrible but it is something that I’m really looking forward to.”
Watching Latenightpass attempt to strike gold at Aintree might be at the forefront of Ellis’ mind, however he hopes one day to be in a position to tell the tale of selling on a Grand National winner given his and Andrews other line of business.
Ellis said: “Buying, producing and selling young horses to go to National Hunt yards is a massive part of our business really along with the training of those horses we have to run.
“I’d like to up the quality again and we have been on an upward curve on that over the last five years.
“If we can keep pushing horses like Kap D’Attente, who at £160,000 became the most expensive British pointing filly when selling at the Tattersalls Cheltenham Festival Sale the other night that would be great as they are the sort of headlines we are after.
“The dream is to sell a horse that ends up winning a Grade One to start off with but one day it would be lovely to say that we have sold a Grand National winner.”