A first-generation “horse girl,” I became a fan of Thoroughbred racing at age 10 following Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid in 2003, and in the ensuing years, I became engrossed in the sport. I was fortunate that the formative years of my fandom included the great Ashado. I’ll admit that I had no sense of the magnitude of Ashado’s accomplishments while she was racing. It never crossed my mind that seven grade 1 wins, two Eclipse Awards, and almost $4 million in earnings would put her in racing’s hall of fame one day. I just loved her talent, consistency, and longevity. When she was purchased by Darley for $9 million at the Keeneland November sale, I was not surprised, but I never allowed myself to dream that I would or could ever see her in person.
Fast forward to 2013. As a sophomore at Cornell University, I spent my winter focused on looking for summer internships. One of my letters was written to Darley, and I received the break of a lifetime when I was offered the opportunity to spend the summer of 2013 at Darley’s Gainsborough Farm as a groom trainee. I accepted the offer immediately, but it wasn’t until the summer approached that the possibility of working on the farm where Ashado lived crossed my mind. Darley, now known as Godolphin, owns multiple properties in Kentucky; what are the odds that my first work experience in horse racing would be at the home of one of my childhood heroes?
It turned out that the odds were in my favor. I didn’t work directly with Ashado during my time at Gainsborough, but I was told that I could see her whenever I wanted, and I took advantage. I was nothing short of starstruck the first time I walked into Ashado’s stall. I don’t get nervous around horses, but I was nervous around her. I don’t know how I expected her to behave, but her calm, almost aloof, demeanor enabled me to relax and take in a moment that I never could have imagined when I was 12 years old. For the rest of the summer, I spoiled her and her foal with peppermints and attention every chance I got.
I haven’t worked at Gainsborough for almost seven years, but Ashado remains a significant part of my life. Thanks to the generosity of the Gainsborough team, I have continued to visit and spoil this great mare when in Kentucky. My first visit to the Bluegrass State following my summer at Gainsborough was to attend the 2014 Kentucky Derby, and, to be honest, the highlight of that trip was reuniting with Ashado. Her election to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame had been announced the month before, and I was so excited to congratulate her in person. I’d be lying if I said that Ashado knew me then or knows me now; there is a direct correlation between the number of peppermints I have and her interest in me when I visit. However, I graciously offer my services as her personal treat dispenser in return for the impact she has had on my life.
Without question, my summer with Ashado confirmed my desire to work in the horse racing industry. Each subsequent visit reminds me how the love of the horse is what motivates me every day as an employee in the Thoroughbred industry. It is fitting that my current employer, The Jockey Club, is a supporter of the racing museum and Foal Patrol (The Jockey Club Technology Services created and hosts the Foal Patrol website), enabling fans to get up close and personal to beloved Thoroughbreds in a manner that was not possible when I was growing up. As the calendar creeps toward Ashado’s foaling date, I look forward to keeping tabs on a horse who means the world to me, and I’m excited that other fans will be able to connect with such a special champion who has brought so much joy to my life.