Hannah Ashcroft was standing by the picnic table outside of Graham Motion's barn at Saratoga Race Course last week, rubbing conditioner into a leather halter with a sponge. From the table you could see horses galloping by on the track, and in the not-so-distant distance, the grandeur of the Saratoga grandstand presided over the entire scene.
A normal day for anyone else at the track, and not entirely different for Ashcroft, who has a background in the racing industry. Except that it was her first full day at Saratoga after coming to the U.S. less than two months ago from England.
"I've basically come to America to learn the American way of racing," Ashcroft said as she went about her work. "So back home I work as an assistant and I've come over here because I've always been very interested in American racing. And basically I just want to learn as much as I can, and then eventually want to train.
"I basically just want to find the best way and which way I like. It's been a fantastic experience so far. ... I ride back home but I haven't rode over here. And as I say, I really want to learn the training side, so that's what I'm trying to focus on."
The 24-year-old Ashcroft worked at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland for five weeks for trainer Graham Motion before traveling with his stable to Saratoga.
"Graham's got a very good reputation, especially back home for being, for one, a very decent guy, and another, obviously an amazing trainer. I wanted to go somewhere that I knew would give me opportunities, and Graham's given me more than I could ever ask for. I just got in touch with him and he said 'Yeah.'"
As a first-timer at Saratoga, Ashcroft wasn't disappointed by her first impression when she rolled through the gates July 21.
"It's everything everyone said and more probably. It's just amazing. You come through the gates here, we came on a truck yesterday and it's just like, wow. Brought the horses up yesterday. It is amazing."
While Ashcroft - and everyone else at Saratoga - have the opportunity to witness some of the most impressionable victories in horse racing, including the goose-bump inducing performance of Songbird pulling away in the stretch to win the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, Motion's pupil reflected on one of the most memorable performances she's ever seen from her "Horse Who Changed Everything."
"When I look back I guess it's got to be Frankel," she said. "It's got to be him because he was just an absolute superstar. And I think, as I was in my early 20s, he just made a great impression on me, and he got everyone excited. It just brings you to tears watching his races, he was just so good.
Bred by Juddmonte Farms in Britain, Frankel is by Galileo out of Kind. Trained by Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel was undefeated throughout his 14-race career, which included nine consecutive Group 1 performances. One of these wins was the 2012 Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, whose 2016 edition was won by Tepin. Frankel retired to stud in 2012.
"I did (get to watch him) once at the (2011 Group 1 Quipco 2000) Guineas, and it was absolutely fantastic because he won by about, well, he stretched out for over 10 lengths, and then he won by about seven or something," Ashcroft said. "You can't even put it into words, it was just like everyone was alive. It was really good. He was probably the horse for me."
Someone called from the barn for assistance with a horse. Ashcroft, whose contagious smile never left her face the entire time she spoke, set down the halter she'd been polishing and politely excused herself, eager to jump in and lend a hand.