Tears and togetherness as Flysofreeashleeb readies for Woodbine Oaks

Tears and togetherness as Flysofreeashleeb readies for Woodbine Oaks

TORONTO, July 22, 2023 — The running of Sunday’s $500,000 Woodbine Oaks will be an emotional time for those connected to Flysofreeashleeb.

Every moment, from the time groom Reson White walks the filly over to the Woodbine paddock, to when trainer Patrick Dixon gives jockey Jose Campos a leg up, to the first sight of the black silks emblazoned with a red and purple lightning bolt on the racetrack, will bring about a mix of both joy and sadness for those closest to the dark bay daughter of Midnight Lute.

Flysofreeashleeb, owned by John Brnjas’ Colebrook Farms, is named after Ashlee Brnjas, John’s daughter, who passed away in September 2021.

Everyone who takes care of the Colebrook string of horses in Barn 5 on the Woodbine backstretch knows the story of how the filly came to be known as Flysofreeashleeb.

“It’s very special,” said Dixon. “The fact she has shown a bit of talent, and that she has a shot to be there is special too. Even though she is her own individual, she responds to her name being Ashlee. She has been called that since day one and she knows it’s her name. This filly has that strong personality Ashlee did, so it’s a wonderful thing to see how the two are connected in so many ways. It’s also special for John, the whole Brnjas family and the Colebrook family. It’s been quite a rollercoaster the past two years, but we have stuck together.”

White, who has worked for Colebrook Farms since 2012, including alongside Ashlee Brnjas, has groomed the filly since she arrived at the track as a 2-year-old.

“She’s intelligent, she knows what she wants, but she can go off at times. “She gets better and better. She never gets tired. She always wants to train forwardly and since the first time anyone’s got on her, they’ve always said she wants to go long. I know her so well and I have a great bond with her.”

A multiple stakes-placed trainer, Dixon knows winning the Oaks will be a monumental task for the horse bred by Janeane Everatt (who passed away on July 12), James Everatt and Arika Everatt-Meeuse.

Still a maiden after seven starts, Flysofreeashleeb heads into the Oaks with a pair of thirds, including in her most recent start on June 15, in a 1 1/16-mile Tapeta race at Woodbine.

Breaking from the rail, she will face 13 rivals in the pre-eminent race for Canadian-foaled 3-year-old fillies.

“She is coming into the race in great shape and ready to run,” said Dixon. “There are some really nice fillies, and the field seems evenly matched. We will just run our best race and see what happens.”

On Friday afternoon, the barn sent out the winner of the first race, the aptly named Ashlee’s Ring, a 3-year-old daughter of Paynter. It was a maiden-breaking score for the Colebrook homebred.

Maybe, just maybe, that red and purple lightning bolt will strike again in Sunday.

“That was a great moment, to see Ashlee’s Ring win,” said Dixon. “Obviously, that filly was named after Ashlee too. I know John was very happy. He was delighted. We all were.”

One day from now, Flysofreeashleeb will go walk towards the starting gate for what will be the biggest race of her career to date.

That the Oaks presents a tall task and big ask isn’t lost on her connections.

Win or lose, Dixon knows what to expect from the horse listed at 30-1 in the morning line for the 1 1/8-mile main track race.

“She’ll run a good race because she’s in really good order. She’ll run to the best of her ability, and she’ll be in with a shot.”

As for her most notable on-track attribute, Dixon points to a willingness to go the extra furlong.

“Her stamina really stands out. She’s bred to go long, and she wants to go long. This is her first time going a mile and an eighth. She seems like she wants to go longer than that. She also gallops out well after every race. So, stamina is her best ability. Her turn of foot gives her a shot.”

A win in the 68th running of the Oaks would be like something out of a Hollywood script for those who work in Barn 5.

It’s a thought that has crossed Dixon’s mind more often in the past few days.

“I do think about it. But you try not to think about it because you end up putting pressure on yourself, the filly, and everyone in the barn. I gallop her myself because I don’t want to put pressure on the other staff because I know what she means to everybody. At the end of the day, she is a special individual, a horse we all care about, just like we did with Ashlee.”

Flysofreeashleeb will have her own cheering section out in full force for Race 10 early Sunday evening at Woodbine.

Dixon expects it to be an emotional moment for many.

“Everybody that is in the barn now was there when Ashlee worked there, so we’re all still the same staff who relates to what happened to Ashlee and what this filly symbolizes. This filly gets a lot of love from so many people. We’re happy to give that love.”

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms

Grace Martin
Grace Martin Communications Specialist, Woodbine Entertainment
Horse Racing - TB
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Woodbine Entertainment is the largest horse racing operator in Canada, with Thoroughbred horse racing at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and Standardbred horse racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Milton. Woodbine Entertaiment also owns and operates HPIbet, Canada’s only betting platform dedicated to horse racing. Woodbine and Mohawk Park are host to several world-class racing events including The King’s Plate, three Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races, and the Pepsi North America Cup. Run without share capital, Woodbine Entertainment has a mandate to financially invest all profit back into the horse racing industry and the 25,000 jobs it supports across Ontario.   

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