Mary Bo Peep, a homely old broodmare with a knack for delivering winners to the track, has produced her latest hope -- a leggy filly born Wednesday at Liberty Run Farm in Carroll County.
The little bay arrived in a dimly lighted stall on a bed of straw in the dead of night -- prime foaling time. Nine days overdue, the filly hit the ground hungry. Born at 2: 30 a.m., she took her first shaky steps within an hour and then began nursing. Handlers marveled at the 80-pound newborn's appetite and nicknamed her "Miss Piggy."
Outside, the wind howled and the old barn creaked. But neither could drown out the smacking sound of the foal's first meal as she hunkered beneath her weary mother.
"Listen to that strong suckling," said Mary Joanne Hughes, farm manager. "It's music to a stablehand's ears. She's a little vacuum cleaner. None of this mare's other babies ever went to the 'ninny' [udder] like that.
"I think this one is going to be the best runner of all."
From time to time, The Sun will chronicle the progress of Miss Piggy, one of 1,500 new thoroughbreds due in Maryland this spring. Typically, foals remain with their mothers for at least a year until they begin training.
A mediocre racehorse herself, Mary Bo Peep has clicked big time as a broodmare. Of her seven race-age progeny, six have won at the track. (The best, Mary's Buckaroo, has earned more than $300,000 and is a top contender in tomorrow's $100,000 Jennings Handicap at Pimlico.)
However, none of her siblings share Miss Piggy's lofty bloodlines. Her father, Waquoit, is an expensive stallion who won more than $2 million at the track.
"I'm elated," said George Swope, a Baltimore pharmacist who owns mother and daughter. "All you really want is a healthy foal. The mare puts in all the sweat; we just keep our fingers crossed."
For Mary Bo Peep, 18, this is her first baby in three years, and the foaling was more difficult than past ones. Miss Piggy emerged headfirst, but with one foreleg bent backward. The foal's leg cut the mother's vulva and might have done worse had not farm owner Frank Shamer reached inside the mare, straightened the leg and guided Miss Piggy through safely.
Mary Bo Peep ignored the pain and turned to her baby, calming the woozy foal with a soft, low nicker while licking her clean from nose to tail.
"She's counting eyes, ears and feet, just like any mother does," said Hughes.
Then it was time for baby to stand, or make an effort. Miss Piggy staggered up on long, spidery legs -- and toppled over. Hughes shrugged, smiled. "She's testing the landing gear."
Her first steps were comical, like Bambi on ice. One step. KA-BOOM. Then two more shaky paces, as if wobbling on stilts. Finally the filly reached her mother, leaned against her for support and began sucking on Mary Bo Peep's right leg.
"She's looking for the snack bar," said Hughes, praying the foal would find the milk. Some horses never do. Dummy foals, they're called. Racing prospects, they're not. But Miss Piggy zeroed in on the ninny and began to nurse, her stubby tail twirling.
Hughes raised a triumphant fist in the air. "And they're off," she shouted, like a racetrack announcer.
Within hours, Miss Piggy had earned her moniker (she'll receive an official name when registered by The Jockey Club this fall). Mary Bo Peep's wounds were treated. And a Sykesville veterinarian who examined the foal found her healthy.
"Her legs are a bit longer than most, by perhaps an inch," said Chris Melluso, D.V.M. "You hope it means they cover ground real fast."
By midday, the hubbub was over. Mother and foal were alone in their stall. Exhausted, her belly full, the filly slept peacefully at Mary Bo Peep's feet, head nestled on the hooves of the old mare who stood watch over her, bobbing her head occasionally to make sure her baby was there.
Satisfied, she closed her eyes and slept.
Pub Date: 4/19/96