Beating heat is race for now

`Miss Piggy': Prepping for maiden race, the filly has lost her baby fat, but not her aversion to Baltimore's steamy summers.

July 27, 1999|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

BOWIE -- It's 8 a.m., time for Mary Bo Quoit to hit the hay. To sleep. To eat. To beat the heat.

Outside the filly's stall at the Bowie Training Center, the temperature is a sultry 79 degrees, bound for 95. Flies circle lazily in the thick, steamy air. Barn cats yawn, stretch and take cover to preen in the shade of the shedrow.

It's a day fit for neither man nor beast, who struggle in tandem to complete morning workouts. Mary Bo Quoit finishes her regimen early, jogging and galloping two miles by 7: 30. Mindful of the climate, her handlers rose before dawn to make sure the racehorse can complete her drills without sweltering. On sauna-like days, she is done by 6 a.m. Few mind the heat more than Mary Bo Quoit, nicknamed "Miss Piggy," the 3-year-old Carroll County thoroughbred whose life is being chronicled in The Sun.

"Piggy doesn't perform well in this weather," said Jo Anne Hughes, her trainer and part-owner. "Once she exercises, her sides heave like a billows, her nose dilates and she goes into such a lather, it looks like she's covered with shaving cream.

"Her expression shows her discomfort -- the knitted brow, the wrinkled nose, the frown. Piggy makes terrible faces when she's not a happy puppy." Not the best disposition for a horse who might make her racing debut during the dog days of August.

"Given a choice, I'd run her in December," said Hughes. "But I know everyone wants to see her. And it's not going to be 100 degrees the whole month of August."

Come noon, the training center sizzles. Heat shimmers off the pavement as if it were the pile of steaming dung heaped outside Mary Bo Quoit's barn. By midday, the track is a furnace, and nothing moves. Horses. Flies. Cats. People.

In her 12-by-12-foot stall, Mary Bo Quoit can strike whatever position draws the breeze. Most days, it's man-made. Like most trainers, Hughes runs portable fans outside each horse's stall.

Hay and water abound. Languidly nibbling at midday, Mary Bo Quoit turns and drops her head into a five-gallon bucket, sloshing about in one of the two pails of water that hang on the front wall of the cinder-block stall.

Eleven months of daily exercise have left the roan filly fit and trim. Bye-bye, baby fat. "Her hay belly has disappeared," said Hughes, patting the horse's taut tummy. "She is `tucking up' nicely."

Never one to rush her charges, Hughes plans another round of early-morning workouts for Mary Bo Quoit before entering the thoroughbred in her maiden race (six furlongs or less) at Laurel Park.

"It's particularly important for horses who mind this weather to be in the best shape," she said. "The more fit Piggy is, the easier it will be for her to handle the heat."

At Laurel two weeks ago, soaring temperatures KO'd three horses with mild heatstroke. All had just raced. They were hosed down and all three responded quickly, said Dr. Bob Vallance, a veterinarian who works at the track.

"Most horses adapt to this weather, but some just don't do well," said Vallance. "They come off the track acting dizzy and staggering a bit." Any affected racehorse is treated on the spot; if the cold-water spray doesn't suffice, the animal may receive an alcohol bath, fluid injections or medications to prevent shock.

"It's very difficult to determine who can and cannot tolerate the heat," he said. "The only way to tell for sure is poor [racing] performance -- a lack of energy, of vigor."

Vulnerable horses may get an ounce of prevention before a race, said Nick Meittinis, another Maryland racetrack veterinarian. Measures such as cold-water baths, both at barn and paddock; feed supplements to prevent dehydration; and intravenous infusions of saline solution, called "jugs."

Even with such precautions, some horsemen simply pray for a break in the weather.

"I can only hope that Piggy runs on a cool day," Hughes said. "Or that Maryland votes to start night racing within the next few weeks, which is a long shot."

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