Ellison began his racing career five decades ago, joining the late Harry Blackshaw at Warwick Lodge in Middleham, North Yorkshire as a stable lad at the age of 15. Two years later he became a conditional jockey and spent the next 20 years or so riding largely moderate horses. At the end of his riding career, Ellison ran a livery yard and worked as assistant trainer to Don Eddy and Nigel Tinker before taking out a training licence in 1989.
He started training from a leased stable in Malton with just three horses, before moving to Low Meadow Farm, Lanchester, Co. Durham, where he spent six years. Ellison saddled his first winner as a trainer, Corbitt’s Diamond, in a ‘bumper’ at Hexham in November, 1989 but, having subsequently struggled to make much of an impact, almost gave up training altogether in 1995. However, thanks to hard work and no mean ability in training Flat and National Hunt horses, Ellison was able to bring his business back from the brink. One of his best horses in those early days was Fatehalkhair, a Kris gelding who cost just £2,000, but won 20 races on the Flat, over hurdles and over fences between 1997 and 2002.
At the turn of the millennium, Ellison bought Spring Cottage Stables and moved back to Malton with a string of 18 modest horses. However, the move marked the start of his steady progression through the ranks to become one of the leading dual purpose trainers in the country.
In 2011, he won the Coral Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow with Marsh Warbler and the Betfred Ebor with Moyenne Corniche. He also celebrated his 500th winner when Odin’s Raven won a novices’ hurdle at Sedgefield in May that year. In 2013, he saddled his first Group winner, Top Notch Tonto, in the betfred.com Superior Mile at Haydock.
Top Notch Tonto was transferred from Ian McInness in July, but had officially improved by 28lb by the time he was supplemented, at a cost of £70,000, for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October. Ellison warned punters not to dismiss his progressive 3-year-old, saying, “The ground has come right for him and there might be a few dropping out by the end of the week because of it.” His confidence was no entirely misplaced either because, although he had no chance with the winner, Olympic Glory, Top Notch Tonto belied odds of 14/1 by finishing second, beaten 3½ lengths, and collected just under £228,000 in prize money.