12/29/2011 1:41PM

Q&A: Ron Ellis

Shigeki Kikkawa

A trainer on the Southern California circuit since he was 20, he is a member of the board of directors of both the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers. He also does analysis for TVG.

Birthdate: March 10, 1960, in Glendale, Calif.

Family: wife, Amy; daughters Elizabeth, Laura, and Christine

Got into racing because . . . I loved horses. When I was 15, a friend across the street from where we lived took me to the races with his dad, and I loved it. My first introduction to the backside came because my dad was friends with an owner who had horses with trainer Larry Sterling. I thought going to the backside was like going to a major league locker room. It was something you don't usually see. I was really impressed. Larry said if I wanted to work on the backside, I could walk hots on weekends while I was in school. My claim to fame was walking Vigors as a 2-year-old. He promptly reared up and got loose. Welcome to the horse business.

California has had plenty of contentious issues in recent years. How refreshing was it for you to see that big crowd at Santa Anita for opening day on Monday? It was a very exciting day. Obviously, one day does not make a whole year, but there was genuine excitement in the air. For a lot of people, it reminded them of the old days. The week off helped. It shows people enjoy the races when they're not oversaturated."

Do you think that bodes well for California racing in 2012? Del Mar was up, Hollywood was up in handle, and I look for Santa Anita to have a strong meet. Hopefully, the weather will hold out; it was a beautiful day Monday. Some barns have shipped in, like Steve Asmussen. The purses are good. The big thing is not racing too much. People want to see quality fields.

You are on board of directors of the TOC. Because of a recent referendum, the make-up of the board could change. Do you think the proposed changes are positive? I kind of hate to see this whole thing blow up. I think it was kind of useless to go through. All that's going to change is a couple more trainers will be on the board. Personally, I like to see separate organizations. I think the TOC is more effective if it's owners, rather than a 50-50 split. The owners that get involved are top-notch. Mike Pegram, Pete Parrella, Madeline Auerbach. These are people heavily invested in the game. Owners have a tendency to get more involved when it's an owners' organization. And owners dealing with racetracks are much more effective than trainers. I thought the whole battle brought on by the CTHA was counterproductive.

With the make-up of the TOC board changing, will you still seek to remain on the board? I am going to run for the TOC board. I was on the old HBPA board when it was owners and trainers. I think the TOC is much more effective with dealing with racetracks than the old HBPA. Racetracks hold clout over trainers, like with stall space. I've found that owners want to listen to the view of trainers and work with them. We have the same goals. We want to see racing thrive, see the purses get bigger. Bigger purses are good for the grooms, owners, trainers, and jockeys. Everybody benefits. I've found that owners are very willing to listen to trainers' views and help accomplish their goals, and they are more effective at getting things done with tracks.

In what areas do you believe the TOC can improve? The TOC needs to improve communications-wise. I don't think quite enough people know what the TOC is trying to accomplish. Lou Raffetto was a tremendous hire. He's been in every aspect of the business. He's a guy who's out front, talking to people. He's a big help in that area.

In what areas do you believe the TOC has been unfairly criticized? The allegations of stealing money are ludicrous. To say Arnold Zetcher or Mike Pegram are stealing money is crazy stuff and insulting to them. People don't realize the benefits of the TOC, but they are seeing the benefits, like opening day Monday. Some of that fruit is from the labor the TOC has put in place the last couple of years.

You are also on the CTT board. What are its needs? Trainers do have their own issues, separate from owners, like workers' comp, racetrack surfaces. The TOC doesn't want to have anything to do with the surface, other than getting what the trainers want. Once the CTT decides, the TOC helps. But the CTT has a separate function. There are different issues to work on. My main reason for getting back on the CTT board last time was to stop all the infighting and put this whole battle to rest. Let's start focusing on things that really matter, like getting a piece of the video poker pie.

You've done extensive work for TVG in recent years. Do you enjoy doing the television commentary? I love doing it. I do it once or twice a week. They work with me. If I have a horse in, they work around my schedule. It's kind of a nice break from the pace of training.

Your oldest daughter, Elizabeth, now works for TVG. Is she going to follow in your footsteps as a broadcaster or as a trainer? She's on track to graduate in this, her third year at Chapman University. She's worked really hard to do that. TVG has intimated that they will hire her to go on air when she graduates. She's very excited and focused on getting to that point as fast as possible, and it will save her dad some money on tuition. Right now, she's in New York, and then she'll go to Washington, D.C., doing some work for Fox News on a three-week program.

Your wife, who is from Louisville, is the sister of trainer Paul McGee and of Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee. Which side of your family has the better handicappers? Marty is probably a better handicapper than I am. Paul's a good trainer; I don't know about his handicapping. And I know my wife will have way more 30-1 winners than I will.

You have been training for more than 30 years. Looking back, can you believe you got started at such a young age? No, and I never really anticipated I'd get a chance to train at 20. I just wanted to train when I was maybe 25. I was fortunate that that one instance presented itself. Bill and Carole Bohm gave me a chance with To B. Or Not, and it worked out well. But I didn't quit my job with Larry because, with one horse, I could have been out of business in a hurry.

You were a pretty accomplished youth baseball and football player. Is racing a good substitute for sports competition? Building a racing stable is a lot like building a sports team. A lot of injuries that baseball pitchers get you can equate with injuries horses get. You tear a ligament, you're done for the year. There's a lot of similarities in that regard. When you have a racing stable, you've got to have a farm system, just like major league sports. I always manage my horses with Single A, Double A, Triple A -- maiden, once-other-than, twice-other-than. With a lot of horses, it's better for them to work their way through the minor-league system before they're ready for the majors.

What do you consider the high points of your career? Obviously, Declan's Moon's championship season. Also running in two Kentucky Derbies, especially with Atswhatimtalknbout. With a better trip, he would have won. He was flying at the end to Funny Cide. Don't Get Mad, he ran fourth, too. And managing the careers of Rail Trip, Exotic Wood, and Twice the Vice.

Future ambitions? I really want to get back to the Derby. I was there, and it really felt like we were very close, finishing fourth both times. And you know it would make my wife happy.