Pedigree in question, heart is not

Horse racing: Born 11 days after her mother raced, mystery foal Amazing Philly has lived up to her name, making her racing debut at age 4.

March 08, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

BENSALEM, Pa. - A mystery requires foreshadowing.

In the case of Speak Compelling, that came when she finished last by 38 lengths in a race Jan. 19, 2000, at Philadelphia Park. Then a 3-year-old filly, the Maryland-bred Speak Compelling had absolutely no interest in racing one mile around an oval in the dead of winter against trimmer, more focused fillies.

A mystery features a dramatic highlight.

That occurred 11 days later, when Speak Compelling gave birth to a healthy, 55-pound filly in her stall at the racetrack. The birth shocked everyone. No one had even known she was pregnant.

A mystery chronicles the search for clues.

Lynda and Bill Gallagher, owners of Speak Compelling and, suddenly, her newborn foal, conducted an exhaustive search for the baby's father. They identified colts and stallions in Florida and California where Speak Compelling was when she had most likely come into heat. Tests were conducted trying to match the foal's blood with the potential fathers'. No match was found.

A mystery provides a resolution and, one hopes, closure.

In December 2000, as the growing filly approached her first birthday, The Jockey Club, thoroughbred racing's registrar, issued her a rare racing permit. The Gallaghers named her Amazing Philly.

After a series of injuries that delayed her racing debut until her fourth year, Amazing Philly competed for the first time Feb. 18 at Philadelphia Park, where she was born. For the second time (the first being her birth), her appearance sparked wonder and awe.

Onlookers strained to see the mystery horse. A woman in the saddling area sought out Lynda Gallagher and gushed: "She's beautiful. I love her. ... She's the Amazing Philly. Oh, I hope she wins."

Lynda smiled and managed a thank you. She was exhausted, having hardly slept the night before. Her stomach was in knots. Raised an orphan drinking milk from a bucket, Amazing Philly had become the driving force in Lynda's life, especially, but also in Bill's.

Lynda, 58, and Bill, 64, had waited four years for this moment. They'd spent $50,000 on the care and training of this horse who had barged into their lives like a child left on their doorstep. Now, finally, they were going to find out whether Amazing Philly, the mystery horse, could run.

Surprise birth

The Gallaghers were asleep at home in Newtown, Pa., when the phone rang at 6 a.m. Jan. 30, 2000. It was their trainer at Philadelphia Park, a minor league but attractive racetrack north of Philadelphia on a busy commercial stretch in the town of Bensalem. Don Reeder, the trainer, hardly ever called. This couldn't be good.

Bill answered. Reeder said, "Bill, is Lynda there?"

Bill told Reeder that whatever he had to say he could say to him. Bill listened. Dumbfounded, he said to Reeder, "Here, talk to Lynda."

That morning, when one of Reeder's grooms nicknamed Dustbowl (Charles Thomas, 65), approached Speak Compelling's stall, he peered underneath the webbing and spied eight legs. His first thought was someone, as a joke, had left a goat.

When Dustbowl investigated further, he discovered a newborn foal standing at Speak Compelling's side, nursing. Speak Compelling wore a heavy blanket that was strapped between her legs. Even with the tight-fitting blanket, she had managed to give birth overnight to this baby who was now nonchalantly having breakfast. Speak Compelling, an ill-tempered filly, looked the picture of contentment.

When Reeder told Lynda about the foal, she said, "Is it alive?"

"I couldn't imagine that it could be," she said later. "What a miracle."

Speak Compelling was the second horse the Gallaghers had owned. The first they had to retire because of an injury after nine winless races. And now this - an unexpected foal that produced an incredulous chuckle from anyone not associated with Speak Compelling.

To Bill, retired sales manager for an oil company, it was "a devastating blow to us," he said at the time. "We're burned. At this point, what do we do?"

A month and a half earlier, Dec. 12, 1999, the Gallaghers had purchased Speak Compelling for $13,000. She had raced three times in California - twice at Santa Anita Park, finishing seventh by 14 1/4 lengths and third by 2 1/2 lengths, and once at Hollywood Park, finishing eighth by 12 lengths.

After the Hollywood Park race, the Gallaghers bought her on the advice of an associate who said she had shown promise on the tough Southern California circuit and would thrive against horses in Pennsylvania. The Gallaghers paid for a van to transport her cross country and then turned her over to their trainer. Then 57, Reeder had worked around the racetrack for 30 years.

He trained Speak Compelling for one month before sending her out for her first start for the Gallaghers, a race of one mile. Speak Compelling wanted no part of it. Her jockey, Tony Black, said she ran a half-mile and was done.

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