Ramos Still Going Strong at 90

If you are around long enough, you’re likely to meet a lot of people and see a lot of things. And Jackie Ward Ramos, who turns 90 Apr. 8, will celebrate her birthday at Keeneland Friday in exactly the way she’s lived her life–surrounded by family, friends and horses.

“It’s a casual affair. People will come up and have some hors d’oeuvres and drinks–very easy,” she said of her birthday bash at the track. “Of course, it will be all people in the horse business. At this point, I just about know them all. They’re all pals of mine!”

Born in Harrogate, Yorkshire, England in 1932, she remembers the tumult brought on by World War II, as well as the ensuing years. However, her early foray into racing would prove life altering, with horses remaining a constant throughout her life.

She was introduced to the sport by her father, Jack Hylton (nee John Greenhalgh Hilton), the famous English pianist, composer, band leader and impresario. Dubbed the “British King of Jazz” and “The Ambassador of British Dance Music” by the musical press, he rose to prominence during the British dance band era and is credited for bringing several of the era’s stalwarts, including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, to Britain in the 1930s.

“Before the war, I traveled with him and his band around Europe and we went to America too,” she recalled. “I was never really settled in one place because we toured all over. But, he liked racing so I would go to the races with him.”

According to Ramos, racing was limited to Windsor and Ascot during the war, however, the nation’s beloved past time offered an outlet given the circumstances.

“We moved around because of the war and then we had a place in Oxford, not far from Lambourn,” she said. “Thankfully, they kept racing going during the war and being close to racing was an escape.”

An avid horsewoman, Ramos took the 1956 Newmarket Town Plate, a race that was first run in 1666 and later instigated by the’s 1671 winner, King Charles II, the only ruling monarch to win the marathon. Contested over three miles six furlongs over the Newmarket Round Course, the race–the first race to be run under ‘Rules’ guidelines–was restricted to amateur riders and it continues to this day.

“In those days, women couldn’t do anything like that,” she explained. “The Newmarket Town Plate was the only race ladies could ride in. We couldn’t even train under our own name when I first came around. So the race was very significant. And after that, when they started staging [amateur] ladies’ races all over [England and Ireland]I won five of those over the years too.”

Ramos began breeding horses in the 1950s, initially developing Ashleigh Stud in Hailsham in Sussex, England in 1958 before shifting to Dunboyne, Ireland, just outside Dublin, in 1962 after marrying Irish champion jockey Liam Ward. She continued to build her extensive client base, which at one time included the late Robert Sangster.

Following Ward’s riding career, Ashleigh Stud proved successful, largely due to the influence of the prolific broodmare Zanzara (GB) (Fairey Fulmar {GB}), whose progeny include Queen Mary S. heroine Farfalla, Middle Park S., Coventry S. and Queen Anne S. winner Showdown (GB) and English champion sprinter Matatina (GB), who in turn produced Japanese champion juvenile Sunny Ciboulette.

“I her for £500,” she said of Zanzara purchased. “She was a wonderful broodmare for us.”

Partially due to a client’s behest, Ashleigh Stud was relocated once again, this time to America, in 1980. Taking over the former Creakview Farm in Paris, Kentucky, she operated the nursery with her second husband, retired jockey Frank Ramos, up until his death in 2020.

Among the Ashleigh Stud-bred horses that distinguished themselves on the racetrack is Group 2 winner Toast of New York (Thewayyouare), who finished a nose behind Bayern in the 2014 GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.

His granddam–dual Grade I winner Claire Marine (Ire)–was gifted to Ramos late in her breeding career and her penultimate foal, Claire Soleil (Syncline), would go on to foal ‘Toast’ in 2011. After producing a filly by Bernardini in 2017 and a filly by Mendelssohn in 2020, Claire Soleil passed away in 2021.

Also numbered among the Ashleigh Stud residents over the years were dual graded stakes winner and millionaire Fighting Fit, who stood at the farm early in his career and 1995 Champion Turf Mare Possibly Perfect, who resided at the nursery until her death in 2019.

Only dabbling in breeding now, Ramos sold a portion of the original tract of land that was Ashleigh Stud to Coolmore. She currently resides on a smaller farm and counts unraced Flying Wendy (North Light {Ire}) as her only broodmare. The 11-year-old mare, who is a half-sister to GSW and GISP Millie’s Quest (Quest for Fame {GB}), is from the family of MGI/G1SW Doctor Dino (Fr).

“Naturally, I’ve cut back a lot, but I watch racing every day and I go to the track when I can. It’s all I live for.”

The one-time hands-on horsewoman is now squarely in retirement now and her legacy continues through her daughter, Nicole Ward, an assistant to trainer Ian Wilkes, and grandaughter Pamela Deegan, who launched Oxmoor Sales in 2015 and currently serves as an account manager with Eaton Sales.

“I have retired all together. I just save grayhounds from the track now,” she said. “At this moment, we have three. They’ll just live out their lives here.”

Asked how she feels the business has changed since her involvement, she offered, “It’s all very different now, a lot has to do with money. The owner/breeder, like the Mellons, are not what they were. When I first visited Kentucky, all of the [Kentucky] farms were owned by owner/breeders. It’s become a very commercial business now.”

But, according to Ramos, a common thread remains largely unchanged.

“It’s a passion,” she said. “If you don’t have the passion for it, you probably won’t do well.”

And given all the changes, Ramos admits the driving force of her life that has propelled her through nine decades remains unwavering.

“My life is a muddle,” she said with a laugh. “My life is not like other people, very straight forward. I always marched to my own tune.”

“But I haven’t regretted one single day of my life. I’ve enjoyed all the people that I have met. And I know a fair few. Racing is a real community. We all know one another. And that’s what makes it so special.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.