04/25/2014 4:50PM

Hall of Fame latest achievement for Ashado

Champion Ashado will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

Ten years ago this week, Ashado won the Kentucky Oaks, giving high-profile ownership group Starlight Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher their first victory in the filly classic. Later that year, Ashado became Pletcher’s first Breeders’ Cup winner, scoring in the Distaff to secure the first of her two divisional Eclipse Awards.

Ashado now gives her connections another first, as she is among this year’s inductees into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. The honor was announced April 25, with the induction ceremony taking place Aug. 8 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“What an honor it is for a horse – and she really does deserve it,” said Jack Wolf, whose Starlight Stables campaigned Ashado throughout her racing career. The outfit later sold her for $9 million, then a record for a broodmare prospect, to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley operation at the 2005 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. “She never missed a dance,” he continued. “And when you talk about her personality, how gentle and kind she was for a racemare, and then she put on a different face for her races. A quality horse who knew how to act with class. She’s [still] just like she was when she was on the backside – very gentle and kind taking care of her offspring. Total class.”

Ashado has been a finalist on the Hall of Fame ballot for three straight years, beginning in her second year of eligibility.

“We have not trained a horse yet that has made it,” Pletcher said. “I think it’d be awesome. [We’ve had] our fingers crossed it’d happen for her.”

The excitement has extended to Gainsborough Farm in Versailles, Ky., where the 13-year-old Saint Ballado mare now resides as a broodmare for Darley. “It’s very, very exciting to everyone on the farm and on the staff, especially working with her day to day,” manager Danny Mulvihill said. “It just adds a level of excitement on the farm.”

Ashado won 12 of her 21 starts, including seven Grade 1 races, over her three seasons of racing. Winner of the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly of 2004 and champion older female of 2005, she retired with a career bankroll of $3,931,440. Her accomplishments make her purchase price of $170,000 at the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sale look like a bargain.

“She had a tremendous top line,” Wolf said of his early impressions of the filly. “She had some issues. She was a bit back in the knee, and that might be one of the reasons we got her for $170,000. … She had a great physical about her. We liked the fact that she was by Saint Ballado, and we had done a good bit of business with [consignor] Taylor Made. [Aaron and Marie Jones] breed a good horse. It was really funny, because it was the first year I decided to take on some partners. I guess I bought about 12 horses that year, and sold parts of three of them – two of which were [Grade 1 winner] Purge, and Ashado. Everyone says how lucky I’ve been, but the guys that got in on those three really got lucky.”

Ashado produced a quick return on the investment, winning her first three career starts, including the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes.

“She was very precocious,” Wolf said. “The amazing thing about her that sticks in my mind talking about her as a young 2-year-old, once we sent her to Todd, we never sent her back to the farm once. She was ready early as a 2-year-old, and a 3-year-old, and a 4-year-old. That just tells you how sturdy she was.”

Ashado made the first of her three trips to the Breeders’ Cup in the fall of 2003, finishing second to then-unbeaten eventual champion Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. She concluded her season with a gutsy nose victory over La Reina in the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes.

“I’ll never forget that Breeders’ Cup out there – [Halfbridled’s trainer, Richard Mandella] won four,” Wolf said. “They’d had all these fires out there, and it was stifling hot, with all this ash in the air, and she came back pretty well exhausted after that race. And Todd decided to run her back about a month later, and she won by a nose. … The effort she put in in that California race really got my attention, after having to ship cross-country, and go through all that fire stuff, and then a month later, to win by a nose.”

The following spring, Ashado won the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks by 3 3/4 lengths, but lost her final Kentucky Oaks prep, running into a buzz saw named Madcap Escapade in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. She was still sent off as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, and, despite breaking from the rail on a muddy track, got a stellar trip under John Velazquez to defeat Island Sand by 1 1/4 lengths, with Madcap Escapade back in third.

“I was confident – and I was even confident when Madcap Escapade went out to the lead she had [4 1/2 lengths through a half-mile]. It set up almost perfect, and Johnny gave her a big ride. … Actually, Todd had talked about the possibility of running in the Derby that year, and we were sort of a coin toss away from doing it. I think we made the right decision. She was in a position where we were confident she would run a good race.”

Over the course of that summer and fall, Ashado finished second in the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes, won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, was third in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, and won the Grade 2 Cotillion Handicap. She then scored a championship-securing victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, besting champion Storm Flag Flying by 1 1/4 lengths and establishing a track record of 1:48.26 at Lone Star Park.

“It was the first Breeders’ Cup that Todd had won,” Wolf said. “Being the first for Todd and the first for us, it was something special.”

The following season, Ashado added a trio of Grade 1 victories, taking the Ogden Phipps Handicap, Go for Wand Handicap, and Beldame Stakes. She finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in her career finale. Just over a week later, she went through the ring at Keeneland November.

“The mare had not been back to the farm, and she didn’t miss any dances. From that standpoint, especially after her last race, it was the right time to retire her and send her on to her new career,” Wolf said. “It coincided with being the right business decision also, especially after the way she sold. We put her through there without any reserves.” 

As a broodmare for Darley, Ashado is the dam of two starters, including Regent’s House, who took her debut March 9 at Aqueduct; the Street Cry filly finished fourth as the favorite in an allowance April 11 at Aqueduct after stumbling badly at the start. Regent’s House has a 2-year-old full brother, Ashland Park, headed to the track this year.

Ashado delivered a filly by Darley sire Bernardini last year, and a colt by the same sire on Jan. 25. She is back in foal to Tapit for 2015.

“They’re very strong, they’re attractive, they get that from her,” Mulvihill said of Ashado’s offspring. “They’re quite independent very early on.”

He says Ashado is “no trouble whatsoever” to handle for day-to-day care, but is independent-minded.

“She’s her own mare,” Mulvihill said. “She would never be overbearing or anything like that with the others in the field, but she takes care of herself out there.

“You can tell she’s a class mare,” he continued. “She’s a very clever mare. You just see the quality in her, in the way she holds herself or the way she presents herself. Those mares just have something about them, and she’s one of them.”