There’s usually something special attached to the first time.
Of the numerous champions trained by Todd Pletcher, the first to enter the sport’s Hall of Fame was the sensational Ashado – an honor well-befitting one of the sport’s top fillies since the dawn of the 21st Century.
A two-time Eclipse Award winner, the durable and classy Ashado won 12 of her 21 starts, and finished worse than third only twice. She notched a Grade 1 victory in all three of her racing seasons and finished with seven of them overall.
She also provided Pletcher with the first of his 11 Breeders’ Cup wins when she captured the 2004 Distaff and, in the process, became the first filly to win the Kentucky Oaks and the Distaff in the same year.
Her initial championship also coincided with the first of seven Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer for Pletcher, whose career skyrocketed since then with such a fury that he now owns the sport’s all-time record for lifetime purse earnings.
When she retired in 2005, her earnings of $3,931,440 left her just behind Azeri’s all-time mark of $4,079,820 for a filly or mare.
Yet, beyond her accomplishments on the racetrack, the respect for her was embodied in equally glowing terms by the record bid of $9-million she attracted when she was sold as a broodmare prospect in November 2005.
When Ashado was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2014, owner Jack Wolf stated simply, “What an honor it is for a horse. She really does deserve it.”
Indeed, she did.
Ashado was purchased for $170,000 as a yearling. The daughter of Saint Ballado out of the Halo mare Goulash raced under the banner of Wolf’s Starlight Racing but was also co-owned by Paul Saylor and Johns Martin. She was handed over to a young, but rising trainer by the name of Todd Pletcher, who had served as an assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
From her early days on a racetrack, Ashado showed great potential, and when she debuted at Belmont Park on June 18, 2013, she splashed to a decisive seven-length victory as a 11-to-10 favorite.
Riding the wave of that triumph, she headed to Saratoga Race Course and moved to the forefront of the 2-year-old filly division by reeling off wins in the Grade 2 Schuylerville and Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes.
After capturing those three straight races – the longest win streak of her career – the momentum shifted when she finished third in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park and then shipped out west to Santa Anita Park and wound up second behind eventual division champ Halfbridled in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Before ending her 2-year-old campaign, Ashado made one more start at two and showed her grit in posting a nose victory in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct.
The Demoiselle also gave Ashado her first taste of success around two turns, which would become a main item on her menu when she turned three.
She started 2004 impressively, drawing clear to win the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks by 3 ¾ lengths. She then finished second to Madcap Escapade in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland Race Course, but Ashado still was sent off as the 2.30-to-1 favorite in the Kentucky Oaks.
Turning in one of the best performances of her career, Ashado was unfazed by a muddy track as she pressed the early pace then edged clear to post a 1 ¼-length win over Island Sand with Madcap Escapade third.
“This was the first time we showed up at a marquee event and brought over the favorite,” Pletcher said after the race. “I’ve surely had my shots at the big races – the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup. But this one carried some extra pressure. She’s been training great, doing so well. I expected to win this race today, and with that comes a lot of pressure. We were feeling it.”
The glow of the Kentucky Oaks, though, was dimmed a bit when Ashado experienced a rollercoaster stretch when she finished second in the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes, won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks by 4 ½ lengths, and then tired in the final eighth to finish third in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.
Given a six-week break by Pletcher, Ashado rebounded in the Grade 2 Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing) with a 2 ¾-length victory that put her on edge for a prime performance in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park.
Facing older females for the first time, Ashado was masterful in the Breeders’ Cup as she raced a couple of lengths off the pace then, despite being blocked at the quarter pole, took charge in the stretch and edged clear like a champion for a 1 ¼-length victory.
“Without a doubt, this filly has delivered every start of her life,” Pletcher said after the Distaff. “The Kentucky Oaks and [the Breeders’ Cup] are races you need to catapult your organization to the next level.”
The Breeders’ Cup made it game, set, and match for Ashado in terms of the 3-year-old filly championship, and also raised grand expectations for her 4-year-old campaign.
Yet, 2005 started on a surprisingly disappointing note when Ashado tired and faded to fifth in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park as the 1-to-2 favorite. It was the first time in her 15 starts that she failed to finish third or better.
She moved forward in her next start as she led by 2 ¾ lengths at the eighth pole but wound up second by three-quarters of a length in the Pimlico Distaff Handicap. She then returned to top form by winning the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park by three lengths and exploding for a 9 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga.
Once again hailed as the queen of distaff runners, Ashado bounced after her landslide victory in the Go for Wand. On the heels of one of the best performances of her career, she turned in her worst in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga. She showed little in finishing fourth, 14 ¾ lengths behind the victorious Shadow Cast.
Ashado never lost more than two races in a row, and she again showed her resiliency by taking the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes at Belmont and positioned herself as the favorite for the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Belmont Park.
A winner of four of six starts at Belmont heading into her encore performance at the Breeders’ Cup, Ashado was sent off as the 2.25-to-1 favorite. She failed to turn in a vintage performance and wound up third, 9 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Pleasant Home.
The 2005 Breeders’ Cup proved to be Ashado’s final start, though her three Grade 1 wins were rewarded with an Eclipse Award as 2005 champion older female.
The next stage of her career came in November 2005 at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale. A wild bidding war for her broke out between two of the sport’s biggest operations, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and Coolmore, and she ultimately went to Sheikh Mohammed for $9 million, a record for a racing or broodmare prospect.
“It was very emotional for us to sell her because it was so satisfying to own her,” Wolf told Blood-Horse following the sale. “She stayed so sound throughout her career. It is nice, though, that she was bought by a team that will continue to give her nothing but the best, which is what we gave her for the entire time we had her.”
Nearly a decade later, Sheikh Mohammed had more than a broodmare prospect.
He had a Hall of Famer.
The first Hall of Famer for Todd Pletcher.
Note: This story was published in 2015 and has been updated.
- Prior to Ashado’s sale for $9-million in 2005, the previous record for a broodmare or broodmare prospect was the $7.1-million paid by Coolmore for Cash Run in 2003.
- Ashado was the betting favorite in her final 13 races.
- In her three Breeders’ Cup starts, Ashado had a first, a second and a third.
- Ashado relished a wet track, winning in five of her seven starts on “off” going.