01/28/2005 12:00AM

Oaks-Distaff double proves Ashado is special

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Never before had a filly won the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff. That historical lack of precedent was erased this year when Ashado captured both races, making her an easy choice for the Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old filly.

In an eight-race campaign masterfully guided by Todd Pletcher, who also won a 2004 Eclipse as top trainer, Ashado posted 5 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third, with the Oaks and the Breeders' Cup marking the high points of a remarkable year.

is owned by the partnership of Paul Saylor, Johns Martin, and the Starlight Stables of Jack and Laurie Wolf. "We all think what she did by winning the Oaks and Breeders' Cup was quite phenomenal," said Laurie Wolf.

When the year began, the undisputed champion in the filly division was Halfbridled, who had capped an unbeaten 2003 by finishing 2 1/2 lengths ahead of runner-up Ashado in the BC Juvenile Fillies. But the new year brought dramatic change, as Halfbridled struggled early before ultimately being retired with physical ailments.

Ashado eagerly stepped into the void. After an easy win in the Fair Grounds Oaks, she ran second to the speedy Madcap Escapade in the April 3 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Nearly four weeks later, sent away the 2-1 favorite in a field of 11, Ashado turned the tables on Madcap Escapade, drawing off to win the 130th Kentucky Oaks.

Ashado then ran second in the Mother Goose, won the Coaching Club American Oaks, ran third in the Alabama, and won the Cotillion. Then came her first race against older fillies and mares in the BC Distaff, which she won in a highly professional manner, driving through a narrow opening to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths as the 2-1 favorite. John Velazquez, who also rode her in the Oaks, was aboard in the Distaff.

Perhaps because of Halfbridled's premature retirement and because the top two older mares of 2004, Azeri and Sightseek, both skipped the BC Distaff, Ashado did not get the respect she deserved for her Distaff victory.

"I don't know," said Laurie Wolf. "But that's okay. She's so tough and so consistent. She's never been out of the money her entire [14-race] career, and she's always running in the major races. She's a very laid-back, loving filly, but she does all the work she's asked to do. She really has brought us all a lot of joy."

After a short break following the Distaff, Ashado recently returned to training in south Florida at Palm Meadows, where she was scheduled to breeze this weekend. Pletcher has tentatively planned on the April 9 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park as her comeback spot, with a return engagement in the BC Distaff being the ultimate goal for her 4-year-old season.

Ashado is by Saint Ballado out of Goulash, by Mari's Book. She was bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones and was purchased for $170,000 at the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sales. She enters 2005 with earnings of $2,870,440.