Haskin Guest Blog: Loving Ashado

By Alexa Ravit

With Ashado about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this week, I felt it was appropriate to post this as a guest blog, as it depicts the love of a horse beautifully by a young fan, Alexa Ravit.

Whenever I'm asked who my favorite racehorses of all time are, four names come to mind. The first two to roll off my tongue are Funny Cide and Rachel Alexandra. Funny Cide is THE reason that I love horse racing as much as I do, while Rachel elicits the strongest emotional connection that I've ever felt toward any horse, and probably ever will. I was too young to see Cigar, the third horse on my list, but for reasons only my heart can explain, I love that horse as much as any fan who was fortunate to see all or part of his 16-race win streak in person.

These first three horses all made their ways into public consciousness through their historical accomplishments. Funny Cide has his own website. Rachel has articles of clothing bearing her name and likeness. Cigar paraded through Madison Square Garden in New York City at the conclusion of his racing career. The last member of my beloved core four was given no such rock star status. Don't get me wrong, she lives a life of luxury superior to most people. However, before 2012, when her name first graced the Hall of Fame ballot, I hadn't seen her mentioned in any kind of horse racing media whatsoever in almost seven years.

Who is this horse who holds a significant chunk of my heart? None other than the two time champion, the Hall of Famer, the GREAT, Ashado.

I first became a fan of Ashado after her victory in the 2004 Kentucky Oaks. As an 11-year-old who was still a novice to horse racing, I was vulnerable to becoming attached to any runner I thought had talent. From her rivalry with Stellar Jayne in the summer of '04 to her last victory in the Beldame over a year later, Ashado was a constant during my pre-teen years. While my other equine hero of 2004, Smarty Jones, was whisked away to stud, Ashado kept competing and succeeding.

Thus, when Ashado was consigned to the Keeneland November sale as a broodmare prospect, I was sad, but not disappointed. The soon to be two time Eclipse Award winner had nothing to prove and deserved retirement. When I heard that the hammer had dropped at $9 million for her, I wasn’t surprised. To me at least, she was priceless.

I never expected to hear anything again about Ashado unless one of her offspring made waves on the track. I knew she was owned by Darley and resided in Kentucky, but that was about it. Then, on February 12, 2013, the wheels that would bring her back into my life were set in motion. It was on this day that I was offered the opportunity to intern at Darley's Gainsborough Farm for the summer, working with mares and foals. Of course, I accepted.

As the months passed and the calendar inched closer to my dream summer, my mind started to drift back to a conversation I had overheard on a tour of Darley's Jonabell Farm during Derby weekend in 2008. I vaguely remembered hearing someone ask about Ashado, and the tour guide had said that she was at Gainsborough. Five years later, it had me wondering. Could this be true? Could my childhood hero really be at THE farm I would be working at for the summer? I didn't think about this too much as the countdown to my internship slowly dwindled from three months, to two, to one...after all, regardless of whether or not Ashado lived there, I would still be taking care of some of the best broodmares and most valuable foals in the country!

When I finally arrived in Versailles, Kentucky and met my boss, I shyly asked if Ashado resided on the farm.

"Oh yeah, she does! You can see her."

Safe to say, my summer just got a whole lot more exciting than I thought possible.

While I didn't work directly with Ashado ("my" barn did house champions Riboletta, Balanchine, and the dam of Alpha...) I was told where she lived and that I could see her whenever I wanted. I was too shy to take the short drive to her barn on my first Sunday off, but on my second, with peppermints in tow, I nervously headed over. When I found her stall, her four month old Bernardini filly came right to the front door to check out the new human visitor, but the great mare seemed unaware of my presence. She gazed out the back door, dozing off in the summer sunshine that peeked through the grates.

As I stood outside her door, Ashado continued to pay me no attention whatsoever. While admittedly a little disappointed, I was grateful just to see her up close. Then, as I was preparing to leave, one of the grooms came over to me and said "Oh, you can go into the stall! You work here!"

With slight trepidation, I slid open the door, and walked into the presence of greatness. Like a queen realizing that a stranger had entered her castle, Ashado immediately awoke from whatever daze she was in, turned to face me, and walked on over. I have worked with horses of all shapes and sizes for most of my life, and thus, only a notoriously dangerous or spooky horse can make me anxious. Yet, here I was, gingerly petting Ashado, expecting her to pin her ears, to spook, to bite. In reality, all she wanted was my bag of peppermints. I guess you could say I was thoroughly star struck. In my defense, I was hanging out with a horse who won the two most prestigious races for female horses in the country, who was twice named champion, and sold for nine MILLION dollars! I think being a little nervous was a fair reaction in the midst of such equine royalty.

Eight years removed from the racetrack life, Ashado no longer resembled a top athlete at first glance. These days, her stocky frame is more resemblant of a draft horse. As a racehorse, I always thought she had a bit of an awkward donkey look to her face, an expression she still bears. Yet, in maturity, you can see the class, intelligence, and quality that led her to domination of her division for two seasons. Ashado’s coat looks fantastic, and if she dropped a few pounds, she would be indiscernible from a 3-year-old filly on the backstretch at Belmont. Some Thoroughbreds have “wild” eyes that suggest an intense, high strung demeanor (Rachel is one of those horses), but Ashado’s stare exudes kindness, class, and a bit of wisdom. One of my co-workers once said that he thought broodmares were so cool to be around because they seemed so smart and sage. Ashado certainly supports that notion.

For every week until Ashado's foal was weaned, I visited, spoiled, and loved both mare and foal. My co-workers and bosses probably thought I was crazy, but if you were to tell my 11- and 12-year-old self that I could visit Ashado whenever I wanted, I first would have laughed in your face. My next reaction would be to slap myself if I didn't spend every minute with her that I could. And so I did.

When my parents came to Kentucky at the end of July to drag me home, they also wanted to see Ashado. I hopped over the fence into the field she was residing in, grabbed onto her halter, and led her to them. It was during this seemingly ordinary moment that I had an emotional awakening.

I haven't gotten significantly attached to a horse since Rachel retired at the end of 2010. I've often questioned since then if I've consciously gotten jaded toward the sport of horse racing, choosing to avoid becoming emotionally attached to the latest Thoroughbred stars. After all, in this sport, devotion results in disappointment more often than joy. But in that moment, when I read the name "Ashado" on the mare's halter nameplate as I led her, I smiled and remembered that it was horses like the one I was holding onto who made me fall in love with the sport. A horse who competed and succeeded at the top levels of the sport every year she ran. A horse who didn't blow you away in physique or style, but knew her job and knew it well.

There's something to be said for a Thoroughbred who can win no matter the circumstances. Ashado could run on any dirt surface, fast or sloppy. She won her first graded stakes race sprinting six furlongs and went on to take the Coaching Club American Oaks going ten. She could prompt the pace or sit just off it. She was fast enough to dominate the Go For Wand by nine lengths and game enough to gut out a nose victory in the Demoiselle. When she was on her game, she was pretty tough to beat.

When I found out at the end of April that Ashado had been elected into the racing Hall of Fame, I couldn't contain my pride. Even better was knowing that I would soon get to see her and congratulate her in person when I returned to Kentucky for the Derby. I was as ecstatic to be reunited with her as I was for the most exciting two minutes in sports.

Derby morning, I leapt out of bed like a child on Christmas morning, brimming with excitement not for the Derby (well, yes, the Derby too), but for my impending visit with a horse who had already proven her greatness time and time again. When I arrived, Ashado was turned out in a group with her 2014 Bernardini colt and several other mare and foal pairs. Luckily, they were all along the fence line. In typical Ashado fashion, she cared more for her grass than to hang out with her number one fan. Eventually, however, she did come over, as kind and classy as ever.

After she was satisfied with the attention and praise she received, Ashado left me on the fence line...for more grass of course. As she moseyed away, I was greeted by a boisterous bay foal who I quickly realized was hers. He hammed it up the entire time I stood there, sticking his head over the fence and longing for attention. Most young colts are extremely nippy, but he never once attempted to bite me. He insistently stuck his nose in my face, and plenty of pictures of my kissing that soft muzzle exist as evidence of his good nature. I made sure to tell him how special his mother was to me and that he had some pretty large shoes to fill.

When Ashado was racking up victories, I never considered that her achievements might earn her a plaque in Saratoga. I was just happy that a horse I cared about was winning. My pre-teen self couldn’t appreciate that it takes more than a good horse to win seven grade one races, almost four million dollars, and two Eclipse awards. In August, she will be enshrined in racing’s Hall of Fame, to be remembered forever for her accomplishments on the track. However, to a girl who knew little about racing other than the Triple Crown, I will be grateful to Ashado for teaching me and pulling me in further to a game that has become my passion, and hopefully, my career.

Ultimately, that is what the great mare’s legacy will be.

28 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Deltalady

I love any first person adventure with a Thoroughbred. This young lady is an exceptional writer, and I applaud her writing style which lets her enthusiasm and excitement come through in her writing.  Too often young writers seem to be trying too hard to "be a writer" than in being immersed in her subject and letting her talent carry her through the process of relating an important moment or experience of her life.  Every emotion Alexa expressed I could feel for Ashado, and for all other Thoroughbreds I have admired and loved.  I hope Alexa will launch a blog and keep us updated on her passion and her progress towards a career within the sport. Thanks so much to Alexa for making me aware of such a wonderful and talented Thoroughbred as Ashado, a horse I knew very little about.  Beautiful piece of writing, too.

04 Aug 2014 10:53 AM
txhorsefan

How wonderful!!!  Thank you, Steve, for sharing the words of this lovely young woman expressing her emotions concerned with Ashado.  Thank you to Alexa for writing such a beautiful description of your times with the champion mare.

04 Aug 2014 10:59 AM
Wiltsjen

Oh wow! My 45yr old self suddenly became 11 again remembering that passion that certain horses could bring. At a similar age my bedroom wall was covered with tiny images of Slew and Affirmed, snipped out of newspapers, alongside my 'local' heroes Troy and Ma Biche. Wish I'd kept those!

04 Aug 2014 1:20 PM
Peggy in California

Thank you for writing about Ashado, Alexa.  Your descriptions of her present life and her past fame made me wish I had known her.  How lucky you are to have had a chance to spend time with her.  I too am a Rachel Alexandra fan.  I didn't know that her eyes had a "wild" look.  Perhaps that's her competetiveness still showing.  Good luck with whatever lies ahead in your future.

04 Aug 2014 2:16 PM
Quintal

O.K., that one made me cry.

04 Aug 2014 2:29 PM
Anncat

Thanks, Alexa, for a wonderful piece of writing.  I'm 74. It's nice to know that other 11-year-olds have had my long-ago dream and made it come true.  

04 Aug 2014 2:43 PM
Aluminaut

Great blog Alexa.  Must have been exciting to spend last summer at Gainesway. I spent my teens hands on with our mares, and you're right, the colts can be mouthy. I used to get in trouble for letting the foals put their heads in my lap and sleep.  

Thanks for the update on Ashado.  

04 Aug 2014 2:48 PM
steve from st louis

Alexa, your life is at a crossroads and you probably don't even realize it. Through your good fortune and hard work, you have achieved your life's goal of first seeing your hero up close but even more impressively spending amazing personal moments that will live forever in your mind. As hard as it may seem, now you must set your sights and goals even higher and your achievements will follow. Somehow, I think you're up to it.

04 Aug 2014 2:54 PM
dance with fate

Thanking Alexa Ravit for her wonderful story about Ashado. Her words are inspiring, as is Ashado, who's so deserving of the Hall of Fame. Best wishes to Ms. Ravit in her equine career and to Ashado.  Mr. Haskin, here is another writer who captures the spirit of, & love for, the thoroughbred.

04 Aug 2014 3:26 PM
longtimeracingfan

What a nice essay, and what a nice vignette of a great mare, past and present. Alexa, Steve, thank you.

It's STILL all about the HORSES. No matter what.

Alexa, hope you find yourself a great position in racing or stud farm work, we need folks like you. Good luck.

04 Aug 2014 3:43 PM
Tiz Herself

Beautifully written Alexa Ravit! The passion that you have is what makes racing so special. It would also be a huge dream of mine to see Ashado in person. There have been so many mares that have come and gone from the racing scene. Like you, I was brought into the sport by a horse, his name was Skip Away. I was a few months short of visiting my hero (I fell in love with him when I was 11!!! lol) as Skippy passed in May of 2010 and I visited Kentucky for the first time in October that year for the Breeders Cup.

Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Ermine, Octave, Folklore, Princess of Sylmar, Beholder, Groupie Doll, Azeri, Serena's Song, Mariah's Storm, Silverbulletday, Miesque, Ajina, Escena, Proud Spell, Believe You Can, Pepper's Pride, Sightseek, Rags to Riches, Blind Luck, Plum Pretty, Havre de Grace, Inside Information, Smuggler, Honey Ryder, Royal Delta, Storm Flag Flying, Forever Together, Ventura, Ginger Punch, Surfside, Lady of Venice, Kauai Katie, Six Perfections, Makybe Diva, Life is Sweet, Awesome Feather, Winter Memories,

Awesome Maria, Midday, Joyful Victory, Stardom Bound, No Such Word, Unrivaled Belle, Indian Blessing, Tough Tiz's Sis, Sweet Catomine, Evening Jewel, Life At Ten, Zazu, Gorella, Wait a While, Informed Decision, Broadway's Alibi, Pachattack, Panty Raid, Miraculous Miss, Proviso, Malibu Mint, Magnificience, Cassatt... just some of the many mares that have followed that would love to see in person and do not always hear about after. Of course there are some that are no longer state side which makes it more difficult... Facebook definitely helps with keeping up with horses now a days.

There are lots of geldings who disappear over time too... was delighted to see Perfect Drift back in the public eye as he escorted California Chrome to the gate for the Derby.  Would love to meet both "Dans" sometime... Funny Cide, to meet him again as met him at KY Horse Park, Lava Man, The Tin Man, Better Talk Now, Mine That Bird, Amazombie, Brass Hat, Game on Dude, Presious Passion, Cloudy's Knight, Cost of Freedom, California Flag, Rapid Redux, Commentator (again!), Caracortado... that list goes on. lol.

Great piece though, thoroughly enjoyed, give Ashado a kiss for me!

04 Aug 2014 4:59 PM
jockey2be

LOVE this article!Really knew where she was coming from,myself a victim of falling in love with so many racehorses!

04 Aug 2014 5:33 PM
Danette

Absolutely beautiful Alexa. Thank you for sharing your story with us.  

04 Aug 2014 5:50 PM
BelmontBarb

Ashado was a victorious and vibrant figure in racing and well deserving of the Hall of Fame amongst the greats. She represents strength and courage that placed her there and  the unexpected gentleness that one never can be too sure about when standing in the stall of a gallant girl with an inquisitive foal ~ nonetheless her intelligence is above and beyond as she was formed into the mare of maturity and mother of preciousness.  Eloquent and proud of past performance and wearing the coat that fits her -she stands with head held high, accomplished and honored and "ultimately" a "legacy" and successful ~ as you will be Alexa Ravit because "passion" is the most important thing anyone can hold and feel and touch - it is what makes things happen - it is the only thing to depend on and since you are aware of yours - you will not need to "hopefully" make it a career for it has already begun ~ right here along with Steve Haskin and the rest of us......Thank you both for your "passion".

04 Aug 2014 10:43 PM
Jackie WV

Steve,

Thanks so much for posting this beautiful piece of writing from Alexa!!  

Alexa,

Thank you for putting into words what I've been unable to do for the past 4 years.  Your quote about Rachel....."Rachel elicits the strongest emotional connection that I've ever felt toward any horse, and probably ever will" is exactly how I feel but never know how to explain to anyone that asks me why? I was smiling when I read about your first encounter with Ashado because it was so much like my visit with Rachel this past spring.  I was so excited knowing I was finally going to get to see her that I could barely sleep the night before.  When I walked up to the pasture fence line, she was grazing a pretty good ways away and I couldn't seem to get her attention at all. I waited for 20 minutes and so desperately wanted to see her up close and pet her, but she wanted no part of it.  Then when I was finally ready to give up and started walking away, all of the sudden she came at a full gallop up to the fence to greet me.  It was the most amazing feeling....my heart was racing and I had butterflies in my stomach!!  I was actually touching Rachel. And although I know it was probably my imagination, I felt like she was happy to see her biggest fan.

Beautiful writing Alexa.....I enjoyed every word! You have a bright future ahead of you and I wish you all the best!!

05 Aug 2014 11:29 AM
barryaksarben

I am an old horse fan and was alot older than 11 when Ashado began her carrer but was an imediate fan and have been waiting for her to get into the Hall of Fame - she was a true champion and was so much fun to watch. She is one of my all time favorite horses

05 Aug 2014 12:47 PM
Old Old Cat

Steve Haskins, Himself, could not have written it any better, nor with any more restrained emotion.  

Thank you both.

05 Aug 2014 4:12 PM
Bellwether

Thank You for a wonderful piece on a wonderful Horse...

05 Aug 2014 4:37 PM
Alexa Ravit

Thank you all so much for your kind comments! I'm so glad that you enjoyed reading about a mare who means so much to me!

Jackie:

I had a similar experience when I got to meet Rachel for the second(!) time last October. There was a group of us, and Rachel was just turned out into her paddock with Hot Dixie Chick. While she initially hung out with us, Rachel then decided to walk toward and graze in the middle of the paddock. I walked away from the main group to a different part of the fence so I could get a better view of her face, and Rachel suddenly lifted her head up and started ambling toward me. I figured that she would make a detour to the large group of people, but no, she walked right over to me, and I got to have a few moments with her to myself before everyone came over to join us. I could write three novels on Rachel, but it still wouldn't be enough to appropriately express how she has affected me.

When it comes to my experiences with Ashado, I often look at my pictures of her to make sure that it was not a dream. 11 year old me still can't believe it.

05 Aug 2014 9:40 PM
Paula Higgins

What a wonderful, well written article! Very enjoyable Alexa. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It made me very happy to see Funny Cide mentioned and of course, the glorious Rachel as well. I knew nothing about Ashado but now I do thanks to your excellent piece. These are memories for a lifetime and thank you again for sharing them with all of us.

05 Aug 2014 11:53 PM
winningcolors88

Alexa,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It reminds me of some great memories I have of Kentucky. I was working that November sale at Keeneland when Ashado sold. I have worked many sales but that one sticks out in my mind. I too was a fan of Ashado and remember it vividly. I was able to sneak away from the barn for a short time and watch her in the walking ring. I was so excited to see her in person. She was pure elegance and class. I still have that catalog, with 9 million written in the top corner, one of only a few that I saved. I was fortunate to meet and work with many great racehorses over the years, too many to name here. My years in the horse industry are pretty much over, I work an occasional sale when I can. My primary responsibility now is being a mom to a 14 month old little boy. I cherish those years when my days were filled with broodmares & their foals, weanlings and yearlings.  As you can see from my username there was a filly who stole my heart as well. I was 8 years old when I watched Gary Stevens ride Winning Colors to win the Kentucky Derby and I was never the same. Winning Colors inspired a city girl from the suburbs of Detroit to follow her dream and work in the thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. Those were some of the best years of my life and I owe them all to a horse. I too was able to meet the horse who changed my life. She didn't want a whole lot to do with me. Her colt had just been weaned and she was enjoying her first day of peace and quiet. That didn't matter, just being able to look her in the eye and say thank you was enough for me. It is not always easy working in the industry, there are plenty of challenges. However you won't regret any of the trials when you get to live a life full of love and passion, in the presence of one of God's most magnificent creations. Some advice someone shared with me, I would like to share with you, don't ever lose the awe you had as a little girl for these amazing animals. It is easy to take them for granted when it is your job day after day.  They will teach you so many things, appreciate that each and every day. Good Luck in your career! It sounds as though you have a bright future ahead of you!

06 Aug 2014 12:14 AM
Proud Acres

Love these animals, thank you for sharing.

06 Aug 2014 8:45 AM
Gordon Tallman

Alexa, thank you for sharing. It is amazing how these magnificent creatures work their way into our hearts.  Though I have been professionally involved in the Thoroughbred industry for much of my adult life, I still remember well being a star struck child.

In November of 2011 I visited Kentucky.  At Old Friends, I got to see Gulch, Afternoon Deelites and Sunshine Forever.  The Kentucky Horse Park provided an opportunity to see Cigar, Funny Cide and Da Hoss.  And at Three Chimneys, I stood by the side of Point Given and had my picture taken with him.  It was like being a kid all over again!

06 Aug 2014 1:13 PM
sara futh

Lovely story, well written too. \This is what horse racing should be all about.

06 Aug 2014 1:30 PM
Jackie WV

Alexa,

If you ever do write that novel about Rachel, I'll be the first in line to buy it!!  My sister lives in Lexington and has connections at most of the farms (including Darley). The next time I make it to town and to Darley, I'll be sure to look you up. Sounds like we'd have a lot to talk about.  Take care!

06 Aug 2014 2:25 PM
Debbiek

Alexa, I just love your story.  I, too, had a filly/mare touch my heart the way that Ashado did yours.  Genuine Risk was my girl and I love her to this day as much as I did the day I watched her win her Derby.  I was never fortunate enough to meet her, but I always felt like we were kindred spirits.  She was only able to have two babies and I was only lucky enough to have one (I lost two before her) and I always felt like maybe she felt the way I did when I lost mine.  I cried for hours when she died, but I knew that she had lived a good life, and maybe, just maybe she was then reunited with those she had lost.  And as for your excitement when you got to meet her, I am 50 years old and last autumn I got to meet one of my loves, Tinners Way, I felt the same way as your 11 year old self did when you met Ashado.  I slept very little the night before and my husband told me I was just like a little kid at Christmas.  That was okay with me, as I felt exactly like that!!  Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.  Please come back again and share some more with us.  Steve, thank you for sharing all of your guests with us :)

06 Aug 2014 11:59 PM
Windolin

Beautiful! Brought tears from feeling your passion in my heart.

07 Aug 2014 12:42 PM
Bold Lad

I was around 11 years old as well when I got hooked.  It was easier then because racing was still in the sports section of the news papers and on TV more frequently.  Bold Lad was the one who got me.  It was the 60's so Kelso, Dr. Fager and Buckpasser hold spots in my heart as well. I still remember them clearly.

07 Aug 2014 6:15 PM

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