Trainer Michael Ann Ewing found herself internet famous this summer for a strange series of events she never could have imagined. After a decade training Thoroughbreds, she had dreamed of one day being the trainer generating buzz ahead of a run in the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders’ Cup. She still dreams of that. What she didn’t figure on was that she would spend a few weeks fielding interview requests about an unstarted 2-year-old filly running down the highway.
“I even had a paper from Ireland call me,” she said. “A friend of mine who was up in Canada saw it on the news there. People were fascinated. It was a quirky story and people were concerned.”
Video of Ewing runner Bold and Bossy went viral after the filly dropped jockey Miguel Mena in the paddock ahead of her first race at Ellis Park in August and ran back to the backstretch before leaving the track property and getting onto the road nearby. Ewing had stayed in Lexington that day and sent Bold and Bossy with her assistant, with plans to watch the race on television. She saw the filly’s outburst in the paddock and knew they weren’t going to make the gate.
“Kelsey [Wallace], assistant trainer was calling me five minutes later, saying ‘We can’t find her, she’s gone,’” recalled Ewing. “I said, ‘What do you mean, you can’t find her?’ and she said, ‘She has left the property.’”
Bold And Bossy ran down US-41, then to I-69 and onto Veterans Memorial Parkway, with cars whizzing by and trainers following her in their vehicles. Eventually, the bewildered filly tired enough she could be safely caught and immediately treated by the state veterinarian, who had followed her in the horse ambulance.
Ewing bases at The Thoroughbred Center just outside of Lexington, Ky., and normally brings all her horses home immediately after their races. Wallace and Ewing agreed that putting the filly on a trailer on a hot afternoon for a three-hour haul was not the best thing for her, as the highway jaunt had left her dehydrated, exhausted, and sore. Wallace checked on her throughout the night, running fluids to her and expecting a quiet drive home in the cool of the morning. Then, she got a call at 4 a.m. just before she was to head back to Ellis to load up. There had been a fire in the receiving barn, the person on the other end told her, and they couldn’t find her filly.
As most people know by now, all the horses in the receiving barn that night made it out alive, thanks to employees of nearby trainers who spotted the flames. ‘Bossy’ was the only one who came out with burns, and at first Ewing thought they weren’t too bad. She had a few places where her hair and skin were rippled but not bald and pink, so Ewing had expected her recovery would be fairly simple. As she quickly learned though, burns sometimes take a while to fully manifest, and the hair and skin gradually sloughed off from her withers over her topline to her hindquarters.
Bossy spent most of the summer hand walking in the barn at The Thoroughbred Center because she was recovering from some residual hoof bruising and other damage from her highway run and also couldn’t risk the burns being exposed to heat or flies. Last week though, she received clearance to return to turnout and is now enjoying a vacation at a nearby farm, where she spends her days grazing alongside two mini donkeys.
Incredibly, Ewing said the filly has seemed back to her usual self mentally since a few days after the mishaps.
“Once she was home here, she didn’t appear particularly traumatized,” said Ewing. “For days when she got back here, she was kind of wiped out because she had been so dehydrated but she was pretty much herself and perky … we won’t know till we start training if she has any [mental trauma].
“What could have had a tragedy had a very, very good outcome … whatever she does, she’ll have a good life.”
Bold and Bossy runs down US-41 after dumping her rider and escaping the Ellis Park property.
Ewing, who maintains a string of between 20 and 30, was hands-on in Bossy’s recovery, the same way she has been hands on with every other horse in her barn. Like many racetrack trainers, she said she can’t imagine any other way. But Ewing came to the track in a different route than many of her competitors.
Ewing grew up in California as the only horse-crazy person in her family.
“I begged my mother to learn to ride, so she signed me up at a pony club and they had school horses,” she said. “Before I could drive, I’d ride my bike an hour and a half to go to the barn and I’d be there all day. Before I had my lesson, I’d ask people if they wanted me to bathe their horse or braid their horse or whatever they needed.”
She started out riding hunter/jumpers in Pony Club, then transitioned to fox hunters and eventually got into Quarter Horses. She did a little bit of everything with Quarter Horses and Paints – reining, trail, halter classes, hunter under saddle – and loved every minute. Ewing’s husband works in real estate in Los Angeles, and they attended races and other events at Santa Anita Park from time to time. They grew interested in dipping a toe into racing ownership, even though it seemed like a completely different world from the one Ewing knew. It was at Santa Anita they met Bob Hess, who agreed to train the couple’s first horse.
“I thought, ‘I can’t, as a horseman, own a horse and just show up when it races. I’ve got to learn all about racing,’” she said.
While some particularly involved owners may have requested a phone call each morning or might pop by for a workout here and there, Ewing rolled up her sleeves and grabbed a pitchfork.
“I told Bob, I’m going to be one of those annoying owners who wants to figure it out,” she said. “I told him, I just want to be here all morning. I’ll work for free.”
Gradually, she began selling her show horses as she spent more and more time in Hess’ barn. By this time, it was the early 2000s and Ewing was in her forties – not usually the time that horse people make a major shift in horse sports. But Ewing has always considered herself a lifelong student of horses.
“In the horse business, I don’t care what you’re doing, you never know it all because every horse is different,” she said. “You don’t train every horse the same. You can go 20 years and one will have some kind of injury or something you’ve never dealt with. Whatever discipline it is, you have to learn what makes your horse tick and what’s going to work for your horse.
“I think it keeps you young and growing, even as you age. I always think I’m so lucky to have horses as a passion, and having showing as part of my background.”
She started off walking hots for Hess, then became a groom, and then a forewoman – all as she owned a couple of horses in the barn. She eventually became a full-blown assistant for Hess, taking a string to Kentucky for part of the year while he stayed in California. When it was time to go out on her own, Ewing wanted to relocate to the Bluegrass.
Ewing said she likes her set-up at the training center. The smaller number of horses allows her to still do a lot of work herself, and gives her the chance to turn horses out when they need rest and to send them out for hack days in the fields if they get sour or too strong. She has carried over knowledge from the show horse world, mixing ideas and practices to find what works. The horses you’ll see from her barn in January have the same coats they did in mid-summer because Ewing puts them under lights and has multiple blankets for each, negating the skin disease that can accompany longer, sweaty coats as well as the stripping of a coat from a full body clip.
Ewing still dreams of saddling a runner in a classic race, and she came close when Barrister Tom was named as an also-eligible to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf – but she knows that having graded stakes runners is a numbers game, and she’s not interested in big numbers. In lieu of that, she hopes instead people know her as the trainer who’s not afraid to develop a young horse slowly and problem-solve to find out exactly what they need to succeed.
“I think of myself as patient,” she said. “You wouldn’t send a horse to me to rush. I’m very careful; I’m not going to run a sore horse. If it comes along all on its own, that’s fine, but we’re pretty patient.”
As for Bold and Bossy, Ewing is embracing her trademark patience. She has made no decision yet on whether she will try to get the filly back to a race, preferring to see how she’s doing physically and mentally in late winter. Whether the paddock Bossy ends up in is the saddling area at a racecourse or a field at a riding stable or breeding farm, Ewing said she considers her story a success.
“Life throws you curves, as does this business,” she said. “You have to be optimistic and deal with setbacks and disappointments, because you have a lot of those in racing. I think it’s a great game of hope. You deal with what you have and you move forward.”
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