In the worm-racing game, top trainers will tell you, overtraining dulls the competitive edge.
Take the word of Darla Bouma, whose stable of one earthworm, one centipede and one caterpillar has captured the Triple Crown of worm racing at the Howard County Fair two years running . . . er, crawling.
"I get them in the morning (before the race), so they're fresh," says the 8-year-old Highland resident.
None of her racing crawlersor creepers has ever seen a track before its tiny hoofs touched the turf at the annual Howard County 4-H Clover Colossal International Worm Race.
The 46th annual county fair will be open from Saturday through Saturday, Aug. 17, at the fairgrounds in West Friendship. The gate opens at 8 a.m. daily.
The worm race has been a feature of thefair for nearly a decade. It includes separate events in three categories -- slimies, fuzzies and pedes.
One set of races is for Clovers, 6- and 7-year-olds in the junior branch of 4-H. The other is an open competition for worm tamers of all ages.
"It was a way for more youngsters to get involved," says Hope M. Jackson, University of Maryland Extension Service agent for 4-H.
One of the Extension Service program assistants brought in a newspaper article about a similar race in Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. The Fair Board approved the idea and the races began, she recalls.
Worm racing is fun, says Darla. "I like worms. They're all slimy and I like slimy things."
Her centipede and earthworm breeding stocks are housed in a mulch pile behind the barn on the Bouma family's six-acre property along Highland Road.
On the morning of this year's race, Aug. 17, she will dig into the pile for contenders, then head for a nearby mulberry tree toobtain a racing caterpillar.
The 1990 championship trophies were brought home by Lightning, an earthworm; Zip, a caterpillar; and Buster, a centipede.
Darla can't remember the names of her 1989 winners and, unfortunately, there's no way of knowing whether any of them returned to the mulch pile and began siring a line of champions.
"They all ran out of the cup (where they were stabled)," Darla says.
Race rules require all entrants to line up behind a large circle painted on a flat board. The first animal to cross all circles and reacheither the center or the outside circumference of the track is the winner.
Darla readily shares one secret of her success.
Many of the trainers spray their racing worms with water during the event, she says. "I spray mine before the race."
The entrants do not wear racing silks for identification, so Darla has another tip for novice trainers.
"You have to keep your eye on them. I just close one eye,and one eye is watching my worm."
Worms are fun, but Darla also has serious projects going to the fair.
She will enter pigs, lambs,rabbits, kittens, baked goods, a painting and some crafts.
Racingpigs, like racing worms, require no jockeys and will be back at the fair this year with a daily card of seven shows, four races per show.
"Pigs will run on their own. Horses have to have a jockey, and dogs need something to chase," says Bob Hale, owner of Bob Hale Pig Racing Stables Inc. of Sikeston, Mo., whose pigs will appear at the fair.
Actually, Hale concedes, his pigs race for more than glory. Their training regimen includes rewards of cookies at the end of each trip around the track.
Each pig race features a different breed. Hale's stables include Yorkshires, black-and-white spotted, black-and-white belted and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.
A racing pig's career ends when he or she reaches about 65 to 70 pounds, Hale says.
The average pig gains three-fourths of a pound a day, which means that this year's champion is unlikely to be back on the racing circuit in 1992.
Retired racers return to Missouri, Hale says. Gilts (young females) have a good chance of becoming breeding sows, he says, "and the rest of them become bacon and sausage."
For those who like to get into the action but are too old for 4-H, the Over-the-Hill Sheep Fitting and Showing Contest on Aug. 17 offers an opportunity.
"We let the kids do the judging," says Joyce Barnhart, wife of contest chairman Donald L. Barnhart. "(Contestants) have to trim the sheep, if theyknow how, and wash their ears."
Some 4-Hers are tough critics of their parents' performances, says Barnhart, who with her husband raises and shows Montadales. Winners receive no prizes, "just the glory,"she says.