A coming-out at Laurel

Horse racing: Her owners holding low expectations and high hopes, Miss Piggy competes for the first time tomorrow.

August 26, 1999|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

She has gone from carefree foal to well-schooled filly, trained in racetrack etiquette. For more than three years, the steel-gray thoroughbred has been prepped and prodded, groomed and galloped with a single goal in mind.

Mary Bo Quoit, a k a Miss Piggy, is set to run for the first time tomorrow, rain or shine. She is entered in the fourth race at Laurel Park (post time: approximately 2: 30 p.m.).

"From her workouts to her gate work, Piggy says she is ready," said JoAnne Hughes, her trainer and part-owner. "She is building to a peak; I can't hold her [back] any longer."

It's the biggest milestone yet for Mary Bo Quoit, whose life is being chronicled in The Sun. Her career as a racehorse was envisioned long before she was born, when breeders introduced Waquoit, a spirited stallion with earnings of $2 million, to Mary Bo Peep, a swaybacked, old broodmare whose modest bloodlines belied a knack for delivering winners.

That tryst produced Mary Bo Quoit, a spindly-legged foal who set out for the track with her first wobbly steps 3 years, 8 months and 13 days ago at Liberty Run Farm in Carroll County.

Many thoroughbreds hit the race course as 2-year-olds, their owners goaded by thoughts of the Triple Crown. But a few horses bide their time, held back -- like redshirts in college sports -- by conservative trainers who would rather coddle than race them prematurely.

Like most of Hughes' charges, Mary Bo Quoit is a latecomer to racing.

Her half-brother, Mary's Buckaroo, began his career at 3 years, 9 months and won his first time out. Now 8 years old, Mary's Buckaroo has won 15 races and nearly $700,000.

"I know I'm a weenie," Hughes said of her cautious training regimen. "But a lot more trainers would take more time with their horses if the owners weren't pestering them to run."

Hughes heads a syndicate that pur chased Mary Bo Quoit as a yearling for $20,000. The filly's other owners are University of Maryland English professors Jackson Bryer and Calhoun Winton, both of whom will be urging her on from Laurel's grandstand.

"I'm nervous as a cat," said Winton. "I feel like I do when I'm getting ready to teach a new class."

They have few expectations for tomorrow's race, said Bryer.

"I just hope she runs well enough to give us hope for the future," he said. "We're looking for some spirit, some fire in her belly. How she runs is more important than where she finishes."

Mary Bo Quoit's workout times have been modest at the Bowie Training Center in Prince George's County, where she is stabled.

But jockey Mario Verge, an 18-year veteran, likes the smallish filly's competitiveness.

"She's kind of feisty," said Verge, who'll don green and silver silks to ride Mary Bo Quoit. "I worked her out against two other horses, and she beat them both. Broke real good, too. She's still a baby, still learning, but she wants to do it."

Tomorrow, she'll be taken in a van to Laurel Park -- a 15-minute ride -- for her appearance in the $25,000 Maiden Special, a race for fillies and mares who have never won. Of the nine entries, four are first-time starters; the others have raced as many as six times.

None has the following of Mary Bo Quoit, known to newspaper readers without having raced. Nicknamed Miss Piggy for her appetite as a foal, the yearling acquired her racing moniker in a contest. The Sun solicited entries and received more than 500, as varied as Chessie Peep and Quoitalittlelady.

The winning sobriquet belonged to Ann Eustace, of Timonium.

"My godchild is running!" said Eustace, who, alas, cannot attend Mary Bo Quoit's debut. "But I'll keep my fingers crossed."

`A lot of expectations'

"The stories have stimulated interest in this horse," said Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "It's her coming-out party. Hopefully, she won't disappoint. She's got a lot of expectations. Fortunately, she doesn't know that."

Nationally, about 80 percent of every foal crop reaches the race track, Capps said. The average lifetime winnings of those horses is about $18,000, he said.

Mary Bo Quoit's owners figure they already have spent $50,000 on her, nearly half of that for training and upkeep in the last year.

"And she might not be worth a quarter," said Hughes. "They only go as fast as God made them."

Mary Bo Quoit is genetically blessed. Her bloodlines are the best of all of her mother's foals, seven of whom have won a total of 65 races.

"I know she's going to try," Hughes said. "I don't know if she will beat the other horses, but she will try."

For her health during the six-furlong race, the filly will receive a dose of Lasix to prevent nosebleeds from exertion. And her daily routine and diet will be altered slightly. Although she will eat breakfast at 2 a.m. as usual, she will eat an early, light lunch. "Nobody runs on a full stomach," the trainer said.

"I don't care where she places. I just want her to finish the race," Hughes said, keeping the animal's safety foremost in her mind.

"In this business, you expect nothing," she said. "You go day-to-day, because horses have a way of crushing your heart. They can find more ways to get caught up in trick bags.

"There are still a thousand things that could happen between now and Friday," Hughes said. "A horse may do something stupid, in the post parade or at the gate, right up to the time they say, `They're off!' "

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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