A recent visit to Ashford, famously home to American Pharoah and Justify, began in their visitors’ center, allowing a significant glimpse into the farm that began to house Thoroughbreds as the grand vision of Dr. Bill Lockridge, once he converted it from a cattle farm. Even the cattle that lived there, however, had been a top-notch enterprise. According to an article by Maryjean Wall, the cattle raised there were frequent winners at cattle shows.
It was interesting to read her article and realize how much meticulous planning had gone into the farm when Lockridge started the process of renovating it to suit his specifications. All was done to convey an impression of elite status, just like the horses he wanted to inhabit the barn that now is home to American Pharoah and Justify. In fact, Lockridge said if he never found six horses of the caliber he desired to fill that barn, then there would be empty stalls. American Pharoah, of course, has already proven himself as a sire and it remains to be seen how Justify will fare, but if he is half the sire his own sire was he too should have met the standards Lockridge sought.
What I also did not know previously was that the farm is called Ashford because of the castle in Ireland where Lockridge stayed while seeking to acquire the stallion Storm Bird to be the first inhabitant of the barn in Kentucky that was meant to be evocative of a castle. It is very possible if Storm Bird had only sired Storm Cat, his contribution to the Thoroughbred would be assured. A link to one of the future denizens of Ashford was his daughter Line of Thunder through her son Thunder Gulch.
While the visitors’ center contained an impressive array of articles, photos and racing trophies displaying the history linked to Ashford, the equine cemetery showcased its history with equal reverence. Pausing at Thunder Gulch’s gravesite, the tour guide recounted how he was the stallion that was pastured next to new arrivals since he had a calming effect on them while they adjust to life off of the racetrack, and indeed I remember hearing he served that role with American Pharoah too. It is another link between past and present, as well as an anecdote I enjoyed for what it revealed of Thunder Gulch’s nature. I like to know what they were like, beyond the statistics of race records and sire records for as important as those are, they do not tell the whole story of all that a horse was or is.
There is a beautifully landscaped area in front of a stone wall a short distance from the equine cemetery, which provides another link between past and present. The current stallions are posed there for marketing purposes and conformation photos.
I was glad to hear Cigar receive recognition too as we stood at the equine cemetery, and that his name is on a stall at Ashford still as a former resident. While his time there was short-lived due to his infertility, they still recognize that he was one of the greats of the sport who spent some time there, even though the hoped-for stud career did not pan out. That is definitely the strongest impression a visit to Ashford provides, the reverence for the horse which began with styling a barn worthy of equine royalty and continues when they relate how sweet American Pharoah is with the mares and how Maximum Security leaned towards his groom for a show of affection.
When American Pharoah was brought out into the sun, the tour guide said he is ten now. I had lost track of that; visits here to anyone but breeders had understandably been off limits for a lot of the time since the pandemic began. I then thought, at age ten he hopefully has many years left. That is not a thought I normally have about horses as I prefer not to dwell on that but to enjoy the time in their company. But I knew why that thought came to me – it was wonderful to see American Pharoah again, and that mattered most of all, but I also had a fleeting thought about lost time, a bit wistfully. That is certainly what the pandemic and some non-pandemic related health challenges I have faced represented, but the thought didn’t linger. And I knew that was because I was grateful to be around these horses once more. Paul Simon sang life is what you make of it and I believe that and in that moment what I made of it was being there mattered more than any times not being there, for we go forward as best we can. Even if life throws obstacles and curve balls our way, it also gives us lovely May days of flowers and sunshine and the serenity a farm like Ashford bestows.
Wall, Maryjean. “Texan Builds A Castle Fit For a Horse.” Lexington Herald and Leader, November 14, 1981.