School bells ring for 'Piggy' Racing: Mary Bo Quoit, alias Miss Piggy, finds the carefree life is behind her as she takes the first steps in her education for the track.

September 09, 1998|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun Staff

Mane combed, saddle packed, good-byes said, Mary Bo Quoit headed off to boarding school last week to learn to be a racehorse.

Destination: The Bowie Training Center, a sprawling, 200-acre facility for more than 700 thoroughbreds on the site of the old Bowie race course in Prince George's County.

It is a pivotal move for Mary Bo Quoit, a.k.a. "Miss Piggy," a 2-year-old whose life is being chronicled in The Sun. She has already learned the rudiments of horse etiquette, like how to behave around people and telling right from left.

More intense workouts at Bowie will determine her readiness for racing, perhaps as early as next March.

"We're goin' on an adventure, we're goin' on an adventure," trainer JoAnne Hughes sang while loading the filly aboard a van at Liberty Run Farm in Carroll County, her home since birth. Mary Bo Quoit is unsure; her cries pierce the pre-dawn air.

"That's enough, Missy Poo Poo," said Hughes, who spent days prepping the horse for the journey. "She's got new shoes and a trimmed mane -- everything for school but a pencil box."

The trip lasts one hour. At Bowie, equine heads peer from darkened stalls as Mary Bo Quoit sets foot on new turf.

"Watch your step, Badness," said Hughes, as the horse emerges from the van. "See how far down it is? Come out like a lady."

She is whisked inside, fed and left to sniff her new domain, a 12- by 12-foot cinderblock stall lighted by one bare bulb.

Beside the door are strung four plastic jugs -- her "toys" to nuzzle should the horse become restless between workouts.

Will she miss the 10-acre pasture in which she romped and grazed back home?

"No question," said Hughes. "But horses don't pine about it because they are creatures of habit -- plus, they know they're safe here."

Bored horses sometimes develop stable vices, nibbling wood, pawing floors or weaving oddly in their stalls.

Hughes, one of Maryland's more doting trainers, rejuvenates her charges by returning them to pasture for a month or more "so they can be a horse again."

One of eight thoroughbreds in Hughes' stable, Mary Bo Quoit is penned between two of her farm pals, a pair of untested geldings named Wally Wally and Tarzanthemonkeyman.

Two doors down, oblivious to the commotion, stands Mary Bo Quoit's half-brother, Mary's Buckaroo, a regal-looking gray gelding who has won 14 races and nearly $700,000.

"He [Mary's Buckaroo] paid for the van that brought Miss Piggy down here," said Hughes. "I hope she's one-tenth the horse that he is."

Her initial workouts bear promise. Soon after her arrival, Mary Bo Quoit is brushed, saddled and led onto Bowie's beginner's track, a bucolic, three-eighths-mile oval set in the woods behind the main loop.

As she steps onto the narrow track, another horse gallops past, nearly upsetting the roan filly and her exercise rider, Anissa Butler. Mary Bo Quoit rears, snorts and starts a cavalry charge, but Butler holds her back.

"She's very competitive," said Butler, 21, of Upper Marlboro. "When that horse ran by, I could see her thinking, 'Hey, I can do that, too.' "

In due time.

First, Mary Bo Quoit jogs around the deep, sandy track, accompanied by Spencer, a one-eyed old stable pony trained to keep her in check.

Gradually, the filly goes solo, cantering round and round and acclimating herself to course and rider.

Five days later, Mary Bo Quoit has settled in nicely. "She's real self-assured, all business -- if a little willful," said Hughes.

Saturday, during a 20-minute workout on the woodsy track, she tried to mug a filly cantering beside her.

"Piggy was ticked off at something, so she took it out on that poor horse," her trainer said. "You hope they're aggressive, though I'd rather she didn't do that.

"Most important, she remembers the commands she learned at the farm and goes out there like she knows what she's doing," Hughes said.

"A lot of times, horses get here, blank out and go, 'Duh ' "

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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