Eclipse Award: Ashado, Older Female

Eclipse Award: Ashado, Older Female
Photo: Equi-Photo/Bill Denver
Older Female honors go to Ashado.
You have to go back 20 years to find a distaffer who won an Eclipse Award at three and came back the following year to win the older female title as well. Ashado is in elite company.

In 1984 and 1985, Life's Magic earned the statues for 3-year-old filly and older female, respectively, just as Ashado has now done in 2004 and 2005. Since the Eclipse Awards first began being awarded in 1971, the repeat performance has happened only two other times -- Susan's Girl in 1972-73 and Desert Vixen in 1973-74.

In Ashado's case, no one is claiming she had as good a year in 2005 as she did in 2004. But that was a hard act to follow, and let's face it, last year she did win three grade I races (the same number as in 2004) and earned more than $1 million. She also receieved 203 of 257 first-place votes. And, the fact she came back at four to race at the highest level had to contribute to her being sold in November for a world-record price for a broodmare or broodmare prospect.

As a 3-year-old, the daughter of Saint Ballado out of the Mari's Book mare Goulash, won arguably the three biggest filly races (all grade I) in the United States -- the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Breeders' Cup Distaff - Presented by Nextel. In eight starts, she had five wins, two seconds, and a third. The championship honor was a formality -- Ashado garnered 257 of 274 Eclipse Award votes.

Owned by Jack and Laurie Wolf's Starlight Stable in partnership with Paul Saylor and Johns Martin, Ashado began her 4-year-old season April 9 in Oaklawn Park's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I). After pressing the pace early, she finished fifth, though beaten just two lengths. It was the first time in her career, after 14 previous starts, Ashado had finished worse than third. When she came back to finish second in the slop in the Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap (gr. III), the naysayers began to question if Ashado had lost a step.

One who never questioned her ability was trainer Todd Pletcher, who himself picked up an Eclipse Award again in 2005, a year in which he set a North American earnings record for trainers ($20,867,842).

At home in New York, Ashado ripped off consecutive grade I wins in races in which she controlled the pace and drew off when asked by her regular rider, John Velazquez (who also won the Eclipse Award in his category). First she scored by three lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps Handicap June 18 at Belmont, and then six weeks later destroyed the field in the Go for Wand Handicap by 9 ½ lengths at Saratoga.

About a month following the Go for Wand, Ashado tried 10 furlongs for the third and final time in her career in the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I). She was close early but never was really in contention, fading to finish fourth, beaten, 14 ¾ lengths, the worst defeat of her career.

"She never fired at any stage of the race," Pletcher said following the Personal Ensign. But the trainer also said he knew Ashado was not ready to call it quits. He ran her in the Oct. 1 Beldame (gr. I) at Belmont and she showed her usual speed and gameness, winning by a half-length, her smallest winning margin since a nose victory in the Demoiselle (gr. II) as a 2-year-old.

Ashado had one more start to make, and she could stay home to make it -- the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont.

Speaking a few days before the event, Pletcher said no matter what happened in her final race, Ashado had proven her class time and time again. "I knew when she first arrived in the barn how special she was," he said. "She's never missed a dance; this is her third Breeders' Cup."

After Ashado ran third in her final outing, her connections were still in awe of her racetrack accomplishments. "How can you be disappointed?" Pletcher said. "It's bittersweet but she's had an incredible career; three Breeders' Cups -- a first, second, and third."

Standing nearby, co-owner Jack Wolf said, "It's time to see who might be interested in her as a broodmare."

The answer was every top breeder in the world. Ashado brought a world-record $9 million from Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock agent John Ferguson.

She went out on top.

Voting for Older Female:
Ashado, 203; Pleasant Home, 49; Intercontinental (GB), 2; Stellar Jayne, 2; Dream of Summer, 1; Pampered Princess, 1; Voter Abstentions, 3.

To purchase photographs of this year's Eclipse Award winners, click here.

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