Twenty years in, the obsession with standardbreds hasn’t faded for Ashley Dowis

by Chris Lomon

It’s certainly no stretch to say Ashley Dowis is married to her job.

Just after she had graduated high school in her native Ohio almost 20 years ago, the then teenager embarked on a career search, looking to find a full-time gig in the Buckeye State.

Before she landed an interview, a relative came to her with a suggestion, one that gave her pause for thought.

“My cousin is [veteran standardbred trainer] Ron Potter. When I was finished high school, he actually called me when I was out job hunting and he said, ‘Hey, do you want to groom for some horses for me?’ I thought I’d try it out, so I did that, and I’ve never left.”

Eighteen years later, Dowis has zero regrets over the decision she made to become a harness racing caretaker.

In fact, there is nothing else, she offered, that could lure her away from the sport.

“I was addicted right away,” she said with a laugh. “I was a riding-horse girl. I showed Western Pleasure and I barrel raced, but I sold my riding horses almost immediately when I started with the standardbreds. I absolutely love these animals. They really are amazing.”

It didn’t take long for Dowis to develop a bond with the horses she was tasked with looking after.

Days into her racing life, there was nowhere else she wanted to be.

“These horses, they are so versatile. And they appreciate you. You walk into the barn and they are happy to see you every single day. They are appreciative, it seems. I don’t know… there is something truly special about them. I’m happy to see them and they’re happy to see me. You really can’t ask for anything better than that.”

Having worked with hundreds of horses – superstars, claimers, and everything in between – throughout her time in racing, Dowis recalled gaining an early understanding of the benefits of creating a one-on-one relationship with each horse in the barn.

Although she somewhat resists the urge to pick out one particular horse that stands out above all the pacers and trotters she’s worked alongside, a pacer who has gone on to become a millionaire just might top her list.

“I’ve taken care of a ton of them, and they really truly are so meaningful to me, but Workin Ona Mystery would probably be the one I’ve been the closest with. I had him with [trainer Brian Brown] and he made around $700,000 during that time, and I never missed a race with him. I missed my brother’s wedding to be there to watch him race. Nobody messed with that horse, he was mine. Other people might have owned him, but he was my horse.”

A horse with as much personality as talent.

Bred by White Birch Farm, the son of Captaintreacherous—Dragons Tale won the first five starts of his 2-year-old season in 2018.

“He could be a little aggressive, but there was just something about him. When I worked with him, doing him up, putting him away, he would stand there and he loved to get attention. He’s a colt, so he could be a little mean, but he was the one that when he saw you, it was as though he would say, ‘Come here and let me mess with you.’ We had a steel gate for him when we’d travel, his stall gate. We’d travel from Canada to Florida, to Jersey, and we needed that because he would always break them. He just wanted to see you and wanted that attention.”

Never a problem for Dowis.

Showering her horses with affection has remained a constant over the years. So too has been daily conversations, albeit one sided, with them.

“People probably think I’m crazy because I talk to them from the moment I get in the morning until the time I leave. And it’s all individual conversations.”

There’s a possibility Dowis could have those discussions with her very own horses one day.

“I would actually maybe like to train one or two on my own, but still work for Brian. I think I could handle one or two on my own, so that might be a goal. I worked for a lot of people since I started. I worked in New Jersey for a little bit. When I was there, I would just catch paddock a few, hang out, go to different barns and meet people. I would watch and then float. If they needed fill-ins, people to go to Lexington or Canada, they would hire me for however long they needed. I took [trotter and $1.9 million earner] Lucky Jim to Canada for Andy and Julie Miller. I would do things like that. I wanted to learn how people did their job. It’s different for every single stable. I’ve been able to use a lot of what I have learned from those days and put it into what I do. I’m really grateful for that.”

As for personal pursuits outside of the racing world, Dowis doesn’t have much time to explore hobbies and pastimes.

She does, however, continue to have all the time in the world for her horses.

And that suits her just fine.

“Well,” she started, with a laugh. “My job, that’s pretty much everything for me. When I’m home, I like to spend time with my nephews and nieces, who are involved in 4-H. I used to show livestock growing up and they are into it. I love being there. When they go show at the fairs, I’m there.”

A rare guarantee considering Dowis’ commitment to the horses she tends to.

Those she’s closest with have come to understand appearances at family events is no sure bet.

“A lot of times, they’ll call me to let me know something is going on, but more than likely I won’t be there. I’m very close with my mom and dad. They love harness racing, and they are just fine with that. They really do understand, and I appreciate that.”

It’s what being married to your job is all about.