Donegal Racing
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Teenage Horse Lover Integral Part of Donegal

October 18, 2014

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Article by Blood-Horse, Liane Crossley. Photo by Anne M. Eberhardt.

For Amanda Gillman, the sport is more about horse than racing. The 15-year-old South Carolina resident loves going to the races, but she prefers to be at the barn instead of the frontside.

As part of Donegal Racing, Gillman often goes to the track with her mother Paula when one of their horses is in action. The family's patriarch, Don, usually stays home with their animals that include two felines named Giacomo and Dullahan, stray cats adopted on separate Lexington sojourns and named after two notable racehorses.

While Paula socializes with Donegal partners and friends at the races, the youngest Gillman fraternizes with the stable crew. Then she accompanies them to the saddling paddock, flanking the runner's right side as she did with Danny Boy before his game runner-up performance in the Oct. 5 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland.

"Forming a bond with all of the horses and getting to know each one's personality and their favorite treats are more important (to me) than the races they run," Amanda Gillman said. "This past Derby day, I stayed on the backside all day except to walk two of the horses to the paddock. The glitz and glam is great but my favorite thing is being with the horses."

Gillman has been following Thoroughbred racing since her mother started taking her to Keeneland and to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) when she was 3. The industry is an extension of Amanda's passion for horses. In addition to riding and showing her own horses, she delights in seeing friends' foals during visits to Lexington, and attends morning training whenever she can.

Although they reside far from racing's epicenters, the Gillmans are just a two-hour drive from the Elloree, S.C., training center where young Donegal prospects are prepared for racing.

"Amanda is a tremendous ambassador for us because they go to Elloree all the time," Donegal Racing president Jerry Crawford said. "She is on a first-name basis with the barn folks everywhere we go."

On one of those Elloree visits, Amanda was thrilled to take a short ride on a gentle chestnut colt. The indelible memory forged a special bond that strengthened when he launched his career as Irish You Well and became a stakes winner this year at age 3. Amanda said that her most cherished moment was being with him in the paddock prior his fourth-place finish in the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) July 27 at Monmouth Park.

Crawford vividly recalls his initial encounter with a then 10-year-old Amanda in a Keeneland dining room. He noticed her making a crayon drawing of Paddy O'Prado  , Donegal's starter in the afternoon's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Crawford gave her a Paddy O'Prado hat and optimistically invited her to the winner's circle. The colt finished second but the connection sparked their friendship as the Gillmans began attending Paddy O'Prado's races and eventually bought into the partnership.

Crawford is mindful of attracting and retaining younger fans. Many partners have children who display a keen interest in racing. Crawford caters to them in many ways such as providing rubber wristbands, pens and hats in Donegal's green and yellow colors. He also enjoys dispensing $2 show tickets on Donegal entrants to random youngsters he happens upon at the races.

"It means the world to me (to have Amanda in the group)," said Crawford. "One of our responsibilities is to reach out to the next generation and to get them excited about racing. She is a lovely young woman and she is very smart and very intuitive about the business. She is someone who is going to be in this business long term because she has been so involved with it."

This year Amanda Gillman will take her fourth trip to the Breeders' Cup, but will experience her first opportunity to lead a starter. She will be alongside Danny Boy, Finnegans Wake and Puca.

"This is especially thrilling for me since I have been hanging out with them since they were yearlings," she said. "To be with them on Breeders' Cup day is all I can think about. I won't be nervous until the horses are on the track. I have to stay calm for them."

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