By Bill Heller
Cheryl Prudhomme, a retired chemist with two patents, and Michael Gallivan, a retired dentist and legendary AAU basketball coach, connected at a dinner for New York-bred breeders 15 years ago and are still reaping the benefits. The two New York-bred weanling colts they sold at the October 17th Saratoga Mixed Sale for $100,000 and $52,000 are just another pair of success stories for Cheryl and Michael’s 100-acre Shamrock Hill Farm in Fort Edward, 15 miles from Saratoga Race Course.
The two youngsters Cheryl and Michael sold are going to have to go some to top the accomplishments of their four brightest stars: Meriwether Jessica, Brooklyn Strong, Tough Street and Allure of Money, each one a New York-bred. Brooklyn Strong won the 2020 Grade 2 Remsen Stakes and took Cheryl and Michael to the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Combined, those four horses have earned more than $1.2 million ̶̶̶̶̶ four stamps of approvals for the relatively small breeders in upstate New York. “We don’t spend a lot of money on mares, but I’m very picky,” Cheryl said. “I’m very selective.” Michael is, too.
That they selected each other is a story in itself, a shared mission that survived a second date that basically was a disaster.
Growing up in Medford, Massachusetts, near Boston, Cheryl always loved horses. “I just remember for my fifth birthday, I wanted to go horseback riding. I don’t know where it came from. My grandfather, Aime, was a horseman. He was so excited when I got my first horse. I was 18.”
First was a trail ride for her fifth birthday: “My mom took me. I remember the horse, a Paint called Princess. I remember that ride. My mom wasn’t there. She was probably horrified. I wasn’t. I just got on that horse and off we went. I was always obsessed with horses.”
Her family’s interest showed up with the Triple Crown. “Especially the Derby,” Cheryl said. “When Secretariat won the Belmont, we all watched that.”
She considered becoming a veterinarian. “Back then, getting into vet school, especially women, was difficult. I majored in chemistry.”
She would spend most of her life in chemistry, eventually being awarded two patents, one for high-temperature tape and the other for non-silicon removable tape. “That was pretty good, two patents,” Cheryl said. “But I always wanted horses. It was a means to the ends.”
She’s been taking riding lessons for nearly 60 years and got her first horse, Huntley, when she was 18. “He looked like a small draft cross,” Cheryl said.
A few years later, she went looking for a riding horse. Her girlfriend went with her.
“We went to Suffolk Downs,” she said. “I told a guard, a Pinkerton, I wanted to buy a riding horse. It was the late ‘70s”.
She couldn’t have imagined what happened next. “They announced it on the P.A. system,” Cheryl said. “There’s a girl here who wants to buy a horse. Does anybody have a horse? My girlfriend was very embarrassed. I was too.”
They were lucky they weren’t trampled by a horde of trainers seeking to unload one of their least-accomplished Thoroughbreds. Cheryl, however, after speaking with trainers about their giveaways, chose to turn down all the offers that day.
But her passion for horses never subsided. And in 2003 she cashed in her 401K to buy her farm, Shamrock Hills. “I just decided I was tired of doing chemistry,” she said.
Still, she had to pay the bills. So she commuted back and forth from Fort Edward to Boston for several years. “I still worked when I had horses,” she said.
Originally, she had four mares, each one in foal to Raffie’s Majesty, who was only beaten a head when a fast-finishing third in the 1998 Grade 1 Travers Stakes. “I still have one of them, Double Doubleville,” she said. Her first foal was Majestic Joy. “That was the first one I foaled,” she said. “Basically, I just didn’t have a choice. She just popped him out. I had all the towels and everything. It was a very easy foal, thank goodness. I think I had beginner’s luck. I got breeders awards on all those foals. They all ran and won.”
They all seem to, even though Shamrock Hill usually foals just five or six babies each year from six to eight broodmares.
Eventually, she ran into Michael, who was a little more proactive with his equine obsession. “I was infatuated with horses, just from watching cowboys on TV,” he said. Though his parents had no real interest in racing, Michael asked his dad if he could ride a horse.
Their home in Guilderland was just a half-mile from My Place Stable. “He talked to the guy there, and me and my sister, Kathy, got to ride,” Michael said. “I was probably 10. She was eight or nine.”
He treasures that memory. “I got on a big gray horse called Tiny,” he said. “I sat on him with my father. It fulfilled my greatest expectations and gave me a nudge. That was my push.”
He began going to the stable every day. “I would clean 30 stalls so I could ride maybe once a day,” Michael said. “I did it because I grew up to love the whole experience. It went on from there.”
When he was 12, he got to meet two exceptional horsemen: Show Jumping Hall of Famer Joe Stewart and his son Russell. “I was fortunate that this stable happened to have the top show horses on the whole east coast,” Michael said. “Joe was a top trainer. His son was a top rider. These guys were horsemen.”
Michael also got to ride, occasionally. At the end of a jump show in Fairfield, Connecticut, Michael and other grooms got to compete in a bareback jumping event. “They would pass the hat for the purse,” Michael said. “I won. I won $125. Let me tell you, that was like a million dollars. I was working for $5 a day. It was just a great experience. I thought I hit the jackpot. I was probably 14.”
Michael’s love of horses didn’t subside as he pursued his education. After graduating from Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, he graduated from Providence College and Temple University’s Komberg School of Dentistry.
“I used to go to Green Mountain while I was in college,” Michael said. Located in tiny Pownal, Vermont, Green Mountain conducted Thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing at various times in its history. “When they had Thoroughbreds, I started grooming,” Michael said. “They were the great summers. I would go and groom and take care of horses. I got to see a lot of top-notch horses and riders. When I became a dentist, a lot of them became patients.”
Michael attended Saratoga Race Course and shows every weekend. “I was familiar with Thoroughbreds and I bought a couple for showing and riding,” he said. “Then I decided to race one. What happened was my late wife Margaret and I had five kids. We bought horses for all of them. That’s how I got enthused with it.”
He also had another passion: basketball. In 1985, he started the first AAU team in the Capital District, never imagining the impact he would have on hundreds of players’ lives. He began the program and coached the Albany Eagles. “I was the head coach with two buddies,” Michael said. He estimates he got 200 kids Division I scholarships. “I used to take most of July off to take them all over the place, Louisianna, Florida, Oregon, Virginia,” he continued. “At the time, there was no AAU in our area.”
He coached superstars Rebecca Lobo and Anita Kaplan and got to be friends with legendary University of Tennessee’s Coach Pat Summitt. ”They came from all over,” Michael said.
One of them, Maureen Holohan, a writer, director and entrepreneur, wound up getting a full scholarship to Northwestern University, where she became just the third player to score 1,600 points. She is the author of “The Broadway Ballplayers” book series. In 2018, on the website momotion.org, she wrote about the impact Michael had on her life: “I never would have guessed that one of my favorite basketball coaches would be a dentist. I also would have never guessed that this dentist-coach would present me with one of the most pivotal moments in not just my career, but also my life. I was on my way to one more opportunity in life to find out who I was and who I could be.”
But when Michael’s wife died in 2003 at the age of 57, his world went suddenly empty. “I was down a bit,” he said. “I’d go to work and sit in a recliner and watch TV. That’s all I did. My kids were grown. My 55-acre farm had one or two horses. I just had no purpose.”
A good buddy told Michael, “You’re becoming a hermit. Why don’t you come to a New York breeders’ meeting and dinner?”
He sat right across the table from Cheryl. The rest is still becoming history.
They met again at another meeting/dinner, then at a sale. “She had three horses in the sale,” Michael said. “She didn’t sell one of the three. She was there. I said, `Hi, I don’t know if you remember me?’”
She did, and she invited Michael back to her barn to share some wine and cheese. Michael initially declined the invitation but then got talking to someone else. “So I went back to the barn, and I bought the horse she hadn’t sold,” Michael said. “She gave me her phone number to pick up the horse on the weekend. She lived in Boston during the week.”
Michael’s buddy said, “When you go, why don’t you go out to dinner with her? There’s a restaurant two miles from where she lives, so if it doesn’t work out, you can get rid of her quickly.”
Michael did, and she agreed to have dinner at the Anvil Inn. Michael, who hadn’t been on a date in decades, said, “I didn’t know what to do.”
He stopped at a Stewart’s store and bought a single flower for her. “I guessed that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said.
They enjoyed a nice meal at the Anvil. “I brought her home,” Michael said. “I was clumsy like an ox. Do I kiss her at the door? I’ll just walk her to the door and shake hands. I said, `I enjoyed myself.’ She said, `I did, too.’”
That convinced Michael to call her and suggest a second date at the races at Saratoga to see the Travers Stakes. He picked her up at the farm in his truck. He walked inside and they headed out. “We got back in the truck, and I had to slam the brakes on,” Michael said. “I had stepped in dog poop. It was on my shoe.”
Michael got out of the truck and improvised. “I did a Michael Jackson trying to shake it off,” he said. “I get back in the truck. We had the air conditioning on and the windows open. It was still awful. We parked at the Oklahoma Training Track and we saw a really good card. We were supposed to go out to dinner. I was humiliated. She said, `Look, I have some steaks in my freezer.’ Then we hit it off from there. She wasn’t such a bad person. I don’t know another girl who wouldn’t have said, `Get out of here,’ after that happened.”
Cheryl still laughs about it. “He was so embarrassed,” she said. “I had to help him out.”
They quickly found out there were in perfect harmony about horses. “Everything we do is scientific,” Michael said. “I was a dentist. She was a chemist. We’re both competitors. We’ve been successful.”
They lived together, built new barns and ultimately decided to marry in their 50-acre field by a big beautiful hickory tree on July 30th, 2015. “We’ve been together for 18 years,” Michael said.
Their seemingly annual success stories have only strengthened their connection. Their mare Meriwether Jessica had seven victories, including the 2010 Yaddo Stakes for New York-breds, eight seconds and one third, good for $420,855 in earnings.
Brooklyn Strong gave them a thrill of a lifetime, winning the Grade 2 Remsen and taking them to the Kentucky Derby, even though he finished 15th. “His mare, Riviera Chic, was given to us by Wally Burleson, who managed Sequel Stallions,” Cheryl said. “He said he couldn’t take her. We took her, and I said I need a big, strapping colt to breed to. We went to Wicked Strong.” His mating to Riviera Chic produced a precocious colt who quickly made an impact, winning the Remsen. “We watched the Remsen on TV,” Cheryl said. “It was phenomenal.”
The Derby was unworldly. “We left Friday morning in our pick-up truck,” Cheryl said. “It was phenomenal. I always wanted to go to the Derby. It was on my bucket list. But I never thought I’d have a horse in it. That was exciting.”
Michael said, “There’s only 20 in the foal crop to get to go to the Derby. When you’re one of 20,000, that’s monumental. That was really impressive, that the horse was that good.”
Brooklyn Strong finished with three victories and six thirds from 19 starts, earning $307,188.
Their latest star is Allure of Money, who happened to win the $50,000 Leon Reed Memorial Stakes at Finger Lakes on October 16th, the day before his half-brother, a colt by Vekoma, was purchased for $100,000 at the Saratoga Mixed Sale. “It didn’t hurt that Allure won the day before,” Cheryl said.
On October 27th at Aqueduct, their Fake Celebrity, a three-year-old gelding by Practical Joke out of Riviera Chic, won a $75,000 New York-bred maiden turf race in his second lifetime start for trainer Chad Brown and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Two days later, Tough Street, the four-year-old filly bred by Cheryl and Michael, made her stakes debut in the $250,000 Empire Distaff Stakes on New York Showcase Day Sunday at Aqueduct. She had posted five victories, five seconds and two thirds in her 14 starts, earning $302,633, though she finished last in the Distaff.
Of course, Cheryl and Michael realize that New York-breds and the breeders awards they generate have been pivotal for their small farm. “It’s 365 days a year,” Cheryl said. “We always say, `What if we didn’t get the awards?’ When we do, we know we got it right.”