Mary Bo a step from fast track Filly: Carefree days of leisure in the pasture are near an end for the 2-year-old thoroughbred who will begin training next month.

March 17, 1998|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Snorting impatiently, the filly nudges her empty feed bucket until it clangs against the farm fence like a dinner bell. Mary Bo Quoit has been feeling her oats; now, it's time to eat them.

A young colt sidles over for supper, brushing against his pen pal. Mary Bo Quoit does not like this. She pins her ears, then nips his flank. The colt, which outweighs her by 200 pounds, retreats and waits his turn.

Mary Bo Quoit wins again -- another barnyard victory for the 2-year-old thoroughbred, whose life is being chronicled in The Sun.

Brassy and bossy, Mary Bo (nee Miss Piggy) is queen of all she surveys: a 10-acre pasture at Liberty Run Farm in Carroll County, her playpen since birth. But her carefree days are numbered. When Mary Bo Quoit begins training next month, racing becomes her life; the pasture, her classroom.

Time for Mary Bo to earn some dough.

She is starting school later than most. Many of this year's crop of 2-year-olds were broken last fall, when they learned to accept a rider. The best are now toiling on training tracks, prepping for their first race this spring.

Then there is Mary Bo Quoit, who has yet to be saddled at all. A laggard she's not, said her trainer, Jo Anne Hughes, who brings most of her charges along slowly. Forget the lure of early payoffs, said Hughes: Most horses this age don't belong on the fast track.

"Too many people want their investments back quickly; they have 'Triple Crown' on their minds," she said. "I've seen a lot of nice horses, who'd have earned some money, who never made it through their 2-year-old year [at the racetrack] because they were pushed too fast.

"It's like overworking a young girl gymnast -- their bones and muscles can be manipulated to resemble those of an athlete, but their bodies don't mature correctly."

At this stage, leaving Mary Bo Quoit at the gate, so to speak, could extend her racing career, said Hughes, who is also half-owner of the horse.

"Start later, last longer," she said of her training regimen. Who's to argue with success? Mary Bo Quoit's half-brother is Mary's Buckaroo, a gelding Hughes coddled for more than 3 1/2 years before he finally set foot in a race. Now 7, Mary's Buckaroo has won 14 races and $660,000, including a second-place finish in last year's $200,000 Maryland Million Classic.

"Mary's Buckaroo wasn't 'sound' early on," Hughes said. "He would never have made it to the races if I hadn't babied him as a 2-year-old."

Hughes' patient approach in developing thoroughbreds is the exception today, horsemen say.

"This business asks a lot of its youth," said Josh Pons, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and manager of Country Life Farm in Bel Air. "The idea is that the earlier you start them, the better they'll be as young horses -- though they might not be around as older ones.

"It's a real balancing act."

The scales tip heavily toward hurry-ups, said Sam Ramer, executive director of the United Thoroughbred Trainers of America. "We don't allow horses to mature anymore," he said. "The truth is, there's not a damn thing wrong with taking your time."

Too many hopefuls are rushed into racing, he said, fueled in part by a decade-long boom in 2-year-old sales. Nearly 3,000 juveniles -- roughly 10 percent of the registered crop -- are sold at these late-winter auctions, after racing in one-eighth mile sprints at the site.

"These horses are asked to 'breeze' at very short distances at ungodly bursts of speed to make them commercially attractive to buyers," Ramer said. "The accent is on performance at a time in a young horse's life when it ought to be able to languish and grow. That's got to have a deleterious effect on a number of them."

Bucked shins. Tendon injuries. Chip fractures in ankle joints and knees. Crippling injuries can befall any racehorse, but the greatest risks may be to juveniles at the track, says Dr. Kenneth Sullins, veterinary surgeon at the Marion duPont Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va.

"A 2-year-old really isn't a mature horse," he said. "Their bones are softer, their cartilage isn't well-developed and they are prone to problems with shins.

"The only advantage to racing 2-year-olds is money. Everything else suggests waiting until they're 3, but that's not realistic, given the horse industry in this country," Sullins said. "Everyone would be broke."

At Liberty Run Farm, Mary Bo Quoit scarfs her chow (4 quarts of oats) and ambles back out in the flickering twilight to pick at the first tufts of spring grass. Hughes pauses from her chores and watches her prize filly for a minute or two.

"I wish she could stay like that forever," she sighed. "I wish I didn't have to take her to the racetrack and make her a warrior."

But Hughes knows it's time to tap the spunk inside Mary Bo tTC Quoit. "She's got a competitive streak and she needs to let that out on the track," the trainer said.

"And pay her way, I hope."

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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