Tom Ellis interview: Grand National contender was bred by my mother and is being ridden by my wife

Latenightpass – Tom Ellis interview: My Grand National contender was bred by my mother and is being ridden by my wife
Latenightpass, pictured with Tom Ellis and his wife Gina Andrews - Debbie Burt

It’s so improbable; someone’s first runner as a professional trainer, a horse bred by his mother out of a mare he bought on a night out, ridden by his wife, running in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.

However outwardly this may sound like an all-amateur stab at glory, this is a book which should not be judged by its cover; this is not a bunch of incompetent enthusiasts on a day out.

And on the basis of his course form over the fences and, fact, that a good story is very often attached to the winner, the prospect of a National victory for the 11-year-old over-achieving point-to-pointer Latenightpass is by no means a long shot.

Tom Ellis, 39, has been five-time champion point-to-point trainer with a strike rate between the flags last season – a record 71 winners from 150 runners – not even Willie Mullins could boast and Latenightpass’s National debut has merely sped up the natural evolution of Ellis taking out a professional trainers’ licence by 18 months.

“We debated it,” he says, “but as long as I train I’m never going to have another horse, bred by my mum and ridden by my wife, running in the National.”

The jockey, his wife Gina Andrews, 32, has been champion lady point-to-point rider 10 times, has ridden 388 point-to-point winners, 92 under rules. She is a match for any professional jockey.

Latenightpass – Tom Ellis interview: My Grand National contender was bred by my mother and is being ridden by my wife
Latenightpass has won over the National fences when Gina claimed victory with him in the 2022 Foxhunters - Debbie Burt

As for Latenightpass, he was out of a mare Tom and his father bought on a night out when his mother was away. Both he and Gina rode her in point-to-points and when she broke down Pippa Ellis, Tom’s mum, put her in foal to Passing Glance because he was both local and cheap.

The resultant off-spring stands at barely 16 hands and will, surely, be the diddiest of Saturday’s 34 runners. “No one realises quite how small he is,” says Ellis. “The only things big about him are his ears and his heart.”

When they got married in 2015 and arrived at Heath Barn, a cottage on his family’s farm near Marton in Warwickshire, it had three wooden stables. It now has four barns, another one due to go up in the summer, an outdoor arena and a circular sand gallop.

They have become one of the most formidable partnerships in British point-to-pointing. He rode 120 winners and a few under rules. If you are looking for signs, in 2013 he was third on his only ride over the big fences at Aintree – the day Latenightpass was born.

Pippa Ellis (L) Gina Andrews (R) – Tom Ellis interview: My Grand National contender was bred by my mother and is being ridden by my wife
The 11-year-old gelding is owned and bred by Tom's mother Pippa Ellis (left) and ridden by Gina Andrews (centre) - Debbie Burt

Ellis had first set eyes on Andrews as they circled at the start for a race at Dingley. “I thought ‘she’s all right,’ he recalls. “Then at the end of the season my housemate asked if it was okay if Gina and a friend came and stayed the night for the South Midlands point-to-point awards. And the rest is history.”

They have been an item ever since. He retired from riding in 2015 after breaking his leg. “I used to run to lose weight so that was the end of it,” he explained.

“It was just as well. It was our first year training together and we were fighting like hell about who’d ride them. We’d have been divorced by now if I’d kept riding. We had a tremendous row one Easter. I told Gina I was riding Celtic Silver and to get over it. She drove by herself in a separate car to the races.”

“The horse went awful” interjects Andrews laughing. “I was so pleased.”

She is not lacking an Aintree background in her pedigree. Her father Simon, a farmer, won the Aintree Foxhunters’ on Newnham - a feat she matched on Latenightpass in 2022 – and rode him in the 1989 Grand National, finishing 10th. “We’d never seen his race until Dad discovered YouTube,” she jokes.

Her sister Bridget is a Cheltenham-winning jockey married to Harry Skelton and currently taking time out to have a baby due later this month. “She’s spent enough time in Aintree hospital, she doesn’t want to go back there, she’ll have to cross her legs,” says her older sister.

At the moment, though, her brother Jack is arguably more famous. He is 6ft 4in, dubbed the world’s tallest jockey and gets more column inches for his annual ride at the Cheltenham Festival than Paul Townend gets for half a dozen winners there. He is a big part of the Ellis operation and is keen to make it known Latenightpass is absolutely “not going to Aintree just to take part”.

“He actually lived with us for the first year of our marriage, so it was like we’d adopted a 17-year-old child!” says Ellis.

Latenightpass – Tom Ellis interview: My Grand National contender was bred by my mother and is being ridden by my wife
Amateur jockey Gina Andews will ride Latenightpass in next Saturday's Grand National - Debbie Burt

Since the last genuine hunter chaser-pointer Grittar and 48-year-old Dick Saunders won in 1982, the National has kept moving further away from its roots so, though Andrews always dreamed of riding in the race, fulfilling that dream always seemed improbable.

Latenightpass has spent most of his career competing at places which fly under racing’s radar, places like Charing, Cottenham and Kingston Blount for £150. It took him six starts in points to win one. (It took last year’s National winner Corach Rambler five attempts.)

But he progressed to winning the Intermediate point-to-point championship at Cheltenham’s hunter-chase evening, to open point-to-points to finishing second in the Aintree Foxhunters’ in 2021. He returned a year later to win it and was fourth last year after a poor prep.

This season, as much as anything to help Andrews achieve an ambition to ride in a cross-country at Cheltenham, they sent him to Ellis’s best man (and vice versa) Dan Skelton a fortnight before the race because, as a point-to-point trainer, Ellis was not qualified to run horses under rules in anything other than hunter chases.

“We just wanted a go and never dreamed he’d finish second,” recalls Andrews. “People started muttering about the National before we’d even thought about it so we decided we’d have another go [at the next cross-country] and that would be the decider because he needed to go up in the handicap to get in the National. He won it, went up 9lb and it got him in.”

“We’re barely three weeks into having a licence,” says Ellis. “It’ll be my first professional runner. Until now I’d have never been able to have a National runner but we’re more confident in ourselves. We’ve been training 10-12 years but it does seem pretty strange going up against Dan, Gordon [Elliott] and Willie now.

“Four months ago Latenightpass was a good pointer, now he’s up against a Gold Cup winner and Graded horses. You couldn’t mention him in the same sentence. I hope he has a nice clear passage and if he’s up there crossing the Melling Road for the last time then it’ll be in the lap of the Gods and Gina.”

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