Don Reeder, a veteran trainer at Philadelphia Park, couldn't believe his eyes.
About 6 a.m. last Sunday, when he peered into the stall of Speak Compelling, a filly he had raced just 11 days before, she was nursing a foal. The Maryland-bred 3-year-old had given birth overnight, and no one had known she was pregnant.
"I've been on the racetrack since 1960," said Reeder, 57. "I've never had anything like this happen to me or anybody I've been around. It just doesn't happen."
The filly foal was healthy and fully developed, indicating conception 11 months earlier, give or take a few weeks -- normal gestation for horses.
For anybody not associated with Speak Compelling, the story provides a chuckle and a disbelieving shake of the head. But for Lynda and Bill Gallagher, the Newtown, Pa., couple who bought Speak Compelling in December as a racehorse, not a broodmare, the story is a cruel mystery.
"This is a devastating blow to us," said Bill Gallagher, 60, retired sales manager for an oil company. "We're burned. At this point, what do we do?"
They'd like to know two things: How in the world did Speak Compelling become pregnant in the first place? And who is the sire? No one seems to know the answer to either question.
What is known is that Speak Compelling, herself, was conceived in 1996 at Country Life Farm near Bel Air, the result of a mating of the sire Compelling Sound and the broodmare Speak Swahili. She was born April 30, 1997.
In September 1998, when Speak Compelling was a yearling, California-based trainer Randy Bradshaw bought her for $7,500 at the Timonium yearling auction.
Bradshaw sent the filly to Florida to be broken, then shipped her to California for another auction, this one for 2-year-olds. A California couple bought Speak Compelling for $10,000 and vanned her to their farm. That was March 1999.
Four months later, in July, the couple sent Speak Compelling to the racetrack. Bradshaw, working as assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, became her trainer.
Speak Compelling was pregnant even then. She and a colt must have mated in February or March, either at the farm in Florida, the sale in California, or the farm of her new owners.
Bradshaw prepared her for racing as he would any other 2-year-old. On Oct. 13, Speak Compelling made her first start at Santa Anita Park. She finished seventh in a field of eight. She was about eight months' pregnant.
On Oct. 29, racing one mile at Santa Anita, Speak Compelling finished third, beating seven fillies not carrying foals. On Nov. 27, at Hollywood Park, she finished last in a field of eight.
Then, on Dec. 12, Reeder, the Philadelphia Park trainer, bought Speak Compelling for the Gallaghers for $13,000. They vanned the filly cross-country to Pennsylvania. By then, she was about 10 months' pregnant.
As part of the purchase, a veterinarian examined her. She checked out fine. The examination, of course, did not involve a pregnancy test.
Reeder trained Speak Compelling for a month before starting her in a one-mile race Jan. 19 at Philadelphia Park. Ridden by Tony Black, she finished last in a field of eight.
"When Black came back, he said she ran a half-mile and was done," Reeder said.
Eleven days later, Speak Compelling delivered her foal -- alone in her stall with no help.
"She never got that heavy," Reeder said. "She was a little dumpy looking, but I just thought that's the way she was. She never looked racy. She didn't have a lot of muscle tone."
Reeder informed the Gallaghers by telephone. Within hours they decided to send mare and foal to Justaplain Farm in Cochranville, Pa. It specializes in caring for orphan foals. If the Gallaghers decide to return Speak Compelling to the racetrack, her foal will be in good hands.
And that's their plan.
They can't afford to do anything else. They've owned only two racehorses on their own. One broke down and is living on a farm. The other is Speak Compelling, in whom they've already invested nearly $20,000.
"That's the only way for us to get out at this point," said Bill Gallagher, referring to the purse money the filly might earn. "We're not rich people, by any means. We're fans trying to get lucky."
With no known sire, the foal can never be registered and, therefore, can never race. So what happens to the foal?
"I don't have a clue," Gallagher said. "Pay the bills, I guess. But don't worry. That young one will be well-taken care of. We'll see to that."
Bradshaw, the California trainer, said he believes Speak Compelling has the ability to win money for her owners.
"I always thought she'd get better with age," Bradshaw said. "I also thought she'd move up on grass. Plus, you don't know how much better she'd do if she weren't in foal."
But the mystery remains. Did a colt jump a fence at a farm to get to the young filly in heat? Bradshaw offered this explanation: "I think maybe it was the immaculate conception."
The Allegany plan
If Bill Rickman Jr. or Joe De Francis wins the right to build a horse track in Allegany County, it will be a small facility for year-round simulcasting and perhaps a month, at most, of harness and thoroughbred racing.
As reported in Wednesday's Sun, Rickman, owner of Delaware Park, and De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, say they plan on applying for the license to build the track in Western Maryland. They have until March 2 to submit applications, and then the Maryland Racing Commission has seven months to consider them.
The real battle may center on off-track betting parlors. Rickman says he'd like to build as many as five -- in Frederick, Hagerstown, Cecil County, Cambridge and Lexington Park. The Maryland Jockey Club already operates OTBs near Frederick and in Cecil County.
On Thursday, Rickman bought 112 acres on Interstate 68 at the Little Orleans interchange (midway between Hagerstown and Cumberland) for his planned track. He says he paid $650,000 for the land -- with no option in case he doesn't win the license. De Francis says he will have a site by the time he files his application.
Also, Rickman has expressed interest to Bally's in buying Ocean Downs, the harness track near Ocean City.
"I've had an ongoing dialogue with Bally's," Rickman said. "I've had an ongoing dialogue with them for some time."
Sale at Timonium
The catalog for today's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Winter Mixed Sale at Timonium lists 274 horses for sale, including 10 owned by the late Alfred G. Vanderbilt. One, Ewer All Wet, is a stakes winner trained by Pimlico's Mary Eppler.