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SAVING FILLY PUTS WNY NATIVE IN WINNER'S CIRCLE

When Rebecca Bliley jumped in the lake, she never thought about the alligator that calls it home. All she cared about was a drowning horse.

For half an hour, the North Tonawanda native repeatedly dived into the water at a Florida racetrack to free Lovely American, a 2-year-old filly.

"I never even thought about the 'gator," said Ms. Bliley, a horse lover since she was a little girl with a pony.

The tale unfolded Oct. 4 while she was working at the harness racing track at Pompano Park, Fla. Word spread that a horse had fallen into a lake in the track's infield.

"The poor horse was unable to get out," she said.

Without hesitating, Ms. Bliley rushed to the scene and began her rescue effort. While the horse attempted to hold its head above water, she dived below the water several times and eventually succeeded in freeing the horse from a heavy training cart.

"She is one game girl," said fellow trainer Jeff Remy, whose horse she saved. "That water has to be 10 or 15 feet deep, and she was swimming down for what seemed like forever, getting my horse unhitched."

Ms. Bliley's act of heroism has brought neither fame nor fortune, although word has it "The Late Show With David Letterman" may be interested in the story.

"And I got a lovely bouquet," she said.

Ms. Bliley, 25, graduated from the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts and attended the equestrian program at Cobleskill State Agricultural and Technical College. Today, she's a professional trainer with her own stable of four horses.

After leaving school, Ms. Bliley worked as a groom in Rochester and later Florida. Eighteen months ago, after passing tests for training and driving, she launched her own operation.

Ms. Bliley would like to race at Buffalo Raceway some day. For now, that will have to wait.

Lovely American has made a complete recovery, but her owner says he won't race her but will breed her, instead.

"I'll be real hurt if they don't at least name a foal after me," Ms. Bliley said.