LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen July  21, 2024


It's not often in our industry that you find a hard-working horseman that has found a balance between career and personal fulfillment, especially in this challenging year. But trainer Trey Ellis seems to have that down pat! Let's meet him in this month's LQHBA "Insider"!

Alabama Roots But Warmly Welcomed in Louisiana

Ellis was born in Grand Bay, Alabama and grew up in a racing family.

"Both my father and grandfather were 'old school horse people' and rode in match races," said Ellis. "I competed in barrel racing and rode match races starting when I was eleven."

But being a professional jockey was not the path that Ellis chose. His dad and trainer Ray Robbins are first cousins, so after Ellis graduated from high school, he moved to Vinton to work for Robbins as an assistant trainer. When he went out on his own in 2010, Robbins gave him a couple of his horses to train. More support came from a number of Louisiana horsemen, including Ryan Robicheaux, Brandon Trahan, Arnold Trahan and Leverne Perry.

"I always knew that this is what I wanted to do," stated Ellis. "I was very lucky that many really good people helped me get started. Success with some 2-year-olds came pretty early in my career and I began to get more owners."

Since 2010, Ellis has won 379 races and enjoyed graded stakes victories with a number of horses including No Mires a La Luna, his top earner ($401,762); Lassie Futurity champion Embrujo Star; Louisiana Champions Day Derby winner First Corona Down and Hot Dam Bam a Lam, who won the Grade 1 Refrigerator Stakes last October at Lone Star Park.

Currently, the 30-year-old conditioner has 50 horses in training. He has a staff of eight and for the past four years, Ramiro Suarez has served as his top assistant.

The 2020 Delta Downs meet has been one of the best in Ellis' career. Heading into August, he is neck and neck with prominent Louisiana conditioner Kenny Roberts, who has won the title in Vinton a record nine times.

Strong Support From Owners

Gene Cox has been a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse owner since 1969 and admires Ellis as a trainer and genuine down to earth guy!

"He's a great horseman and takes excellent care of my horses," said Cox. "His barn is always very clean, and he keeps his horses happy. As far as our communication, it means a lot to me that he is honest and always lets me know where we stand."

Cox lives in South Carolina and cannot get to all the races but appreciates the photos and videos that he receives from Ellis and his team.

"His group is amazing," added Cox. "I am kept up to date with photos and updates on morning works. You can tell that his entire team takes pride in what they are doing."

Clicking with Rider Juan Garcia, Jr

Ellis has used a variety of riders, including veteran John Hamilton over the years. With "Hambone" out for the Delta Downs meet as he recovers from knee surgery, Ellis has forged a solid bond with Juan Francisco Garcia, Jr.

"Juan has galloped for me for years and we always got along," said Ellis. "He helped me earlier this year at Louisiana Downs and is really good with our 2-year-olds."

Garcia, 27, is the younger brother of trainer Wendy Garcia. He won the 2018 Mardi Gras Futurity for her on Guidry Pride II, and is now having the best meet of his career.

"I've known Trey for a while and followed his races when I was riding in Texas," he explained. "Earlier this year, I came to Shreveport and began working horses for him. I never dreamed I would get the opportunities I have this meet at Delta. It's been really awesome. Trey has some outstanding babies and really good older horses as well."

Garcia, who is represented by agent Cynthia Menard, will continue to ride for his sister and wanted to acknowledge her support and that of his brother-in-law, jockey Modesto Pina.

"I am blessed to ride for Trey and my sister," he stated. "I owe so much to Modesto; he has taught me so much and has given me a great foundation."

Spotting Sale Prospects

Ellis and his owners are longtime supporters of the annual LQHBA Yearling Sale. He enjoys the process of finding the right prospects for his barn.

"Over the years you learn what your owners are looking for," he explained. "I send them a short list to consider and then I look over the yearlings in person. I'm not big on the high dollar horses; my range is $5,000-$30,000. There's too much pressure if you have to return the investment on a six-figure sale grad."

One of the most impressive $5,000 purchases by Ellis actually came at the 2013 LQHBA Fall Mixed Sale. Some 2-year-olds are not ready for the yearling sale and get a little more attention later in the year. Embrujo Star, a daughter of Embruo Fg out of the Toast to Dash mare Allas Toast, caught the eye of Ellis.

"She didn't look like much, but I saw something in her and called Mr. (Hubert) Vestal and told him I wanted to buy her," said Ellis.

Purchased for a modest $5,000, she broke her maiden in trials for the 2014 Lassie Futurity at Delta Downs. She won that final and ran a game third in the Lee Berwick Futurity later in the meet. Vestal was very impressed!

"That filly ended up making over $260,000," added Ellis.

Finding the Right Balance

Ellis has seen his share of his fellow trainers whose lives are focused solely on racing. He acknowledges that you full commitment is a necessity, but believes a home life is important too.

"You've got to love it," he acknowledged when asked about what it takes to be a successful trainer. "After two days on vacation, I am itching to get back to the barn."

His balance comes with spending time with his eight-year-old son, Mason, the lovely Courtney Dugas and her daughter, Briley. The couple have been dating for a year and have a huge following on social media!

"She has been wonderful," stated Ellis. "It's like it's meant to be."

Spending time at home with family is something Ellis treasures, but don't leave out rooting for the Alabama Crimson Tide as one of his most cherished past times.

"I love college football," he admitted. "When you grow up in Alabama, you are either an Auburn or Alabama fan. "I am obsessed with the Crimson Tide; Saturday afternoons in the fall are my favorite days!"

There may or may not be college football this Fall due to the pandemic, but the month of August could bring its share of favorite days to this much-admired Louisiana horseman!

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.