NEW YORK (AP) – Ashado will be one of more than 100 horses competing in the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday, and might be overshadowed by the hoopla surrounding bigger names in bigger races.

That would be a mistake.

Ashado is a star in her own right, a champion filly preparing to close a Hall of Fame career in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

While Lost in the Fog shoots for his 11th straight win in the Sprint, and Saint Liam and Rock Hard Ten battle for Horse of the Year honors in the Classic, Ashado could make racing history of her own.

In her final race before being retired, the 4-year-old Ashado has a chance to become the leading money-earner among fillies and mares (Azeri is No. 1) and only the second horse to repeat in the Distaff (Bayakoa did it in 1989-90).

“It would be a real feather in her cap, and would secure her place in history,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “And kind of a proud moment for our organization to send one out on that note.”

The fearless bay filly has won 12 of 20 career starts, with four runner-up finishes and two thirds for earnings of $3,711,440. Ashado would top Azeri’s mark of $4,079,820 by finishing first or second.

In six starts this year, she’s won three Grade 1’s – the Beldame, the Go For Wand and the Ogden Phipps. At Belmont Park, which will host the eight-race, $14 million Breeders’ Cup, Ashado has won her last three races.

In what looks like a full field of 14 for the 1 1-8-mile Distaff, Ashado will take on her toughest rivals, including Society Selection and Stellar Jayne – two fillies she defeated in last year’s Distaff. A win would add the older female championship to her 3-year-old filly title.

The Pletcher camp is confident. “When she runs we don’t think she’s a cinch, but we think she’s going to win,” said Angel Cordero Jr., the retired Hall of Fame rider who exercises Ashado.

and other horses for Pletcher.

What sets Ashado apart has been her consistency at the highest level, having raced at 10 different tracks in eight states and winning over both fast and wet surfaces. It’s rare these days for a horse, male or female, to be so good for so long.

At 2, she won four of six races, including the Grade 1 Spinaway and finished second to Halfbridled in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. At 3, she won five of eight, including the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club American Oaks before beating older horses in the 2004 Distaff by muscling her way between horses and into the lead.

“She’s just an extremely good filly,” Pletcher said. “And she’s been on top of her game since she was a 2-year-old. She’s a remarkable filly that we just tried to keep pointed in the right direction.”

In an uncharacteristic off day, Ashado finished fourth in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga two months ago. However, it turned out the filly had a bruised foot.

“We immediately went to work on it naturally, by foot-tubbing her, and we worked the little bruise out,” Pletcher said. “And she was back to her old self.”

Ashado proved it in the Beldame at Belmont on Oct. 1, moving to a comfortable lead in the stretch under regular rider John Velazquez, then holding on for a half-length win over Happy Ticket, who will try again in the Distaff.

“I don’t think she ran her best” in the Beldame, Pletcher said, “but hopefully having that race under her belt and a couple of good works we would see her at the top of her game for the Distaff.”

From the start, Ashado had the makings of a champion. Bloodstock agent Barry Berkelhammer picked out the daughter of Saint Ballado at the 2002 Keeneland September Sale, who went for $170,000 to owners Jack and Laurie Wolf of Starlight Stables, Paul Saylor and Johns Martin. By the time she was sent to Pletcher, Berkelhammer told him, “I hope you like her, because this is the best that it gets.”

Pletcher isn’t about to argue.

“Since her maiden race she’s run in every major stake that’s been around,” the trainer said. “You just don’t see horses very often maintain that kind of high level for so many races and so many seasons.”

Cordero says Ashado will always be near and dear to Pletcher.

“She’s got to be one filly that he’s never going to forget,” Cordero said. “He’ll be around for a long time training a lot more horses, but she is going to be on his mind all the time. Whenever he talks about horses, she is going to be there.”

AP-ES-10-23-05 2147EDT


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