Ashado is the kind of horse that an owner and trainer dream about: Tough, consistent, and brilliant enough to compete at racing's highest level. Her command over the 3-year-old filly division throughout 2004 and her tough-as-nails victory against older fillies and mares in the Breeders' Cup Distaff - Presented by Nextel (gr. I) are clear reasons she's the recipient of an Eclipse Award.
And clearly Ashado is something special. Though many have tried, she is the only 3-year-old filly to win both the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Distaff in the same year. In a 14-race career, the daughter of Saint Ballado--Goulash, by Mari's Book, bred by Aaron and Marie Jones has never been off the board and has earned in excess of $2.8 million.
Trained by 2004 Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, and owned by Jack and Laurie Wolf's Starlight Stables, Paul Saylor, and Johns Martin, Ashado raced at seven different tracks in 2004 and only played in grade I and II company. To show what the fans thought of her, she was favored in all but one of her starts--the only time she wasn't favored, she was the 8-5 second choice.
Prior to the Kentucky Oaks, Ashado rattled off an impressive win in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), then ran second to sprint-happy Madcap Escapade in the 1 1/16-mile Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
"She trained superbly before the Oaks," said Saylor. "We were guardedly optimistic, but back at the barn before the race I could see that Todd was nervous. It was the first time I had seen him nervous, and he said it was because she was 'so right.' "
And right she was in the Oaks, overpowering Madcap Escapade in the stretch to score a 1 1/4-length win over the late-closing Island Sand.
After a little rest, Ashado came back at Belmont Park and was upset by Stellar Jayne in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I), but rebounded to beat her newest rival by 4 1/2 lengths in the C.C.A. Oaks (gr. I). A three-wide trip in the Alabama (gr. I) in the slop at Saratoga saw her fade to finish third, but that would be the last time the Kentucky-bred would taste defeat during the year.
With their sights set on the World Thoroughbred Championships, Pletcher and Team Ashado agreed the dark bay or brown filly raced best with a month between starts. They opted for the Cotillion Handicap (gr. II) at Philadelphia Park Oct. 2 over the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 9 at Belmont for her Breeders' Cup prep. Saylor recalled being just as nervous, if not more so, for that race than any of her starts. She showed the sign they all were looking for, that she was ready for what was ahead, rolling to a 2 3/4-length win while giving seven pounds to runner-up Ender's Sister.
The Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup beckoned. Ashado shipped well into Lone Star Park and she became the favorite when Azeri's connections opted to run in the Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I). Breaking from the rail under John Velazquez, Ashado was hemmed in for a good portion of the race down the backstretch. But as the rider kept his feet forward in the stirrups to keep her from running up on her rivals, he continued to tap Ashado on her right shoulder with his whip. He was revving the engine, waiting for time to peel out.
Once a seam opened, they went for it and Ashado rumbled down the straight to a 1 1/4-length win in the Distaff over 2002 2-year-old filly champion and top older distaffer Storm Flag Flying, giving her trainer his first ever Breeders' Cup victory.
Ashado, who "stays very sound, has a good mind, and is easy on herself," according to her connections, remains in training for 2005 at Palm Meadows in South Florida. A run at winning another championship is their next dream.