Ashley MacDonald – Third generation PEI horsewoman

by Victoria Howard

Ashley MacDonald is one of the lucky ones that call Prince Edward Island (PEI) home.

If you’re involved in harness racing, perhaps you’ve never had the opportunity to race at a track on PEI, but there are many famous horsepeople and horses that have called the island home. In fact, statistics show that Canada is home to a variety of approximately 500,000 horses.

Several renowned PEI-born horsemen are Joe O’Brien, Jim McDonald, Wally Hennessey and the MacDonald brothers: Anthony, James and Mark, all who came from PEI: also known as “The Kentucky of Canada.”

PEI has two live horse racing venues racing under the Red Shores banner: Charlottetown Driving Park and Summerside.

The roots of harness racing run deep on Prince Edward Island and are an integral part of its heritage. It has been this way for a long time, for it is reported that PEI hosted match racing as far back as the 1800’s.

Organized harness racing made its first appearance in the year 1850 in Charlottetown when ice races were conducted on a one-mile circuit on the Charlottetown harbor.

The prestigious Gold Cup and Saucer Races became the premier racing event in the Atlantic Provinces, running the first race on Aug. 19, 1960. This successful beginning would be the start of many great things offered to harness racing fans.

Ashley was born into the game as both of her parents were ”obsessed” with the sport and formed a stable together.

“My grandmother was also a pioneer for women in horse racing, as she was an owner, trainer, driver and farrier,” Ashley said. “She is definitely where I get my confidence.

“My stable consists of two horses. The first is my homebred: a 3-year-old pacing colt named Sir Vaylance by He’s Watching out of Colonisee Obligee by Art Colony. As a 2-year-old he trained down great to 2:18 but was so big that I made the decision to quit with him to let him finish growing.

“When I brought him back in, I took him to PEI and he’s now been in 2:26 and looks good. I also have another homebred: a 2-year-old trotting colt named Workslikeacharm, by El Platinum out of Charming Oaks by Kadabra. He is staked to Delaware, which has a late stake program. My plan for him is to have a couple starts over Charlottetown Driving Park or Summerside and if he’s solid I’ll take him across the border and see how it goes.”

This is Ashley’s first year on PEI since 2008.

“I am stabled at the Oleary Fairgrounds, which is conveniently 15 minutes from the home farm,” she said. “If my horse, Sir Vaylance, shows talent I’ll take him back to Ontario and if my father needs me to take some 2- or 3-year-olds across the border for stakes, I’ll be spending a big part of the summer in Jersey or Pennsylvania.”

Ashley’s father, Ronald MacDonald, is originally from Charlottetown, PEI and her sister, Vanessa, attended the University of Prince Edward Island there. Her brother, Brett, tries to go to Old Home Week every year.

Last year, Ashley was a Gold Cup and Saucer Ambassador, representing No Plan Intended, who finished second. Her brother, Brett, drove the third place horse, Rhodena Road.

Her family is closely connected to Dusty Lane Farms in Cornwall, PEI which is owned by the Gass family.

“As a teenager I paddocked horses for my cousin, John MacDonald and looked after his horses,” Ashley said. “Firethorn and One False Move both came up in 2011 for the Gold Cup and Saucer trials. Firethorn finished second in the finals.”

When Ashley wasn’t paddocking, she attended a lot of horse shows throughout Ontario and Quebec, which led her to work for a show jumper, Liubov Kochetova (RUS).

“While at The Toronto Film School, I would sneak away to travel from Long Beach to Vegas to Kentucky to Washington and other places to obtain points for the Olympic qualifiers in 2016,” Ashley said. “After school I went to work at Determination Stable and went across the border working as Luc Blais’ second trainer in New Jersey in 2019 where we won the Hambletonian with Forbidden Trade.

“I travelled with Emoticon Hanover and Dream Together, for the Miss Versatility series. Both mares made the final on Little Brown Jug Day in Delaware, OH. [Emoticon finished second and Dream finished fourth].”

After parting ways with Determination, Ashley became friends with Mark Etsell while stabled together.

“I had two stalls on the end of trainer Mark Etsell’s barn,” Ashley said. “Mark is a phenomenal trainer who puts a lot of slow miles in his horses, but they are ready when they need to be. My favorite driver is Bob McClure who is also great with horses for he has a lot of patience and he is one of my best friends. Together we have been part of two super teams: Determination, and then being teamsters at Etsell’s.

“Having only two horses enabled me to go a lot of training sets with Mark. We shipped to Mohawk for qualifiers and I paddocked Adare Castle during her 2-year-old stake season, as well as others like Sea Can.”

Ashley’s boyfriend, Jansen Sweet, is a paramedic with Island EMS and a horseman who operates a small racing stable. He has several broodmares that are family co-owned that he keeps at his farm, Timberlea Standardbreds.

Ashley is now working with Jason and they are both over the hill in love with their new Roll With Joe—String Bikini colt.

“Jansen and his owners bought String Bikini in November and we shipped her to PEI from New York,” Ashley said. “I was there for the birth of the foal. I really enjoyed the experience once the colt was dried and standing and I knew he was alright. My father’s mare, Charming Oaks, is the dam to my 2-year-old colt. Last year she had a big Holiday Road filly and is now in foal to PEI stallion, EL Rocket.

“My 2023 goal is to have fun bringing along the young horses and managing the broodmares and yearlings with Jansen. We are hoping to expand the property and build another barn.

My plan is to keep one or two of the yearlings and possibly buy a yearling out of my grandmother’s trotting stud in Indiana, Uno Jantara. I love breaking yearlings and watching them grow into racehorses. I’d like to expand my knowledge into what goes on at the yearling sales at Harrisburg and Kentucky and perhaps start making yearling videos, combining what I learned at the Toronto Film industry with my love for horses.”