A loveless affair for `Miss Piggy'

Breeding: Though short on romance, Monday's meeting in the barn between Mary Bo Quoit and Meadow Monster may mean a new life.

Horse Racing

April 12, 2002|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

The horse known as "Miss Piggy" has swapped the race course for the mommy track.

Spring is breeding season at thoroughbred farms throughout Maryland, a time when more than 1,500 broodmares are matched up with stallions for a roll in the hay.

One of those being led to the halter is Mary Bo Quoit, a 6-year-old whose life has been chronicled in The Sun.

The horse, nicknamed "Miss Piggy," could have been at the track, where she won several claiming races. But her stats weren't stellar, and something else lay in store.

A tryst with her first beau.

He's a handsome brute who resides on a farm near Westminster, just a whinny from where Mary Bo Quoit was foaled. His name? Meadow Monster.

Such dalliances between mare and mate lack a certain ardor. There is no exchange of pleasantries, no prenuptial horseplay. During the union, the two are supervised by handlers bent on ensuring the consummation.

A Walt Disney movie it's not. "People think it's Bambi running across a flowered field," said Ron Green, co-owner of Green Willow Farms, where the stallion stands.

The point is to produce progeny with the best chance of winning. It's a calculated encounter between strangers, the equine equivalent of a blind date.

For Mary Bo Quoit, several things transpired to hasten this stage of her life. Discouraged by her racing record, her owners put her on the market last December. The sisters who purchased her, for $2,500, said they were attracted not by her performance, but by her pedigree.

"We bought her, sight unseen, for her bloodlines only," said Vicki Herlinger of Hilltown, Pa. "It's a shame she didn't do anything [on the track]. Let's just hope her babies do."

Mary Bo Quoit carries green genes. Her sire, Waquoit, won $2 million racing.

Unlike her big-boned dad, Miss Piggy is on the svelte side: thin face, narrow chest, a four-legged version of Ally McBeal. The hope is her offspring will revert to the family trait for breadth and blockiness - a possibility Herlinger and her sister, Cindy Hipple, are counting on.

"She's an attractive filly, if a little refined," said Herlinger, a trainer at Philadelphia Park. "I'm hopeful she produces something larger than herself. Lots of skinny mares have thrown [borne] big babies."

To that end, they chose as her mate the broad-shouldered Meadow Monster, a hunk of horseflesh who has a birthright and a stall full of trophies.

Winner of 11 races (six stakes) and nearly $500,000, Meadow Monster has a resume that puts him in demand. Last year, he serviced 96 mares from his home at Green Willow.

This season, he'd already been to the stud barn 52 times by mid-day Monday. Later that afternoon, he made Miss Piggy a Mrs.

The mare was skittish. She'd been trained to go to the starting gate; this was different.

To calm her, and to ensure that no one - equine or human - was injured, handlers fussed over Miss Piggy like nurses prepping a surgical patient.

They gave her a tranquilizer and tied up a front leg to secure her position. They rinsed her hind end and wrapped her tail with gauze. Finally, they used an age-old practice to soothe her: They looped a rope, called a twitch, tightly around her lip.

One man steadied Miss Piggy's head; another held the twitch. A third grasped her bound foreleg; a fourth lifted her tail. A fifth man then led in Meadow Monster, an 11-year-old bay who pranced into the stud barn, bellowing in anticipation.

He knew what to do: what nature intended. He sniffed the mare, nuzzled her back and then mounted, completing the act in 23 seconds. Within moments, the stallion was led off and cleaned up, and the mare was once again the center of attention.

In her role as a prospective mother, Miss Piggy was given a hormone to encourage ovulation. The intent: efficiency in mating.

"You try to breed them just one time," said Carolyn Green, the farm's co-owner. "You use the stud as little as possible, so there's less chance of him getting kicked. He's worth too much money."

The stallion's time is valuable. Meadow Monster's stud fee is $3,500, provided Miss Piggy gives birth to a live foal.

To make sure that happens, her handlers and veterinarian have been laying the groundwork for months.

Since February, she has been put under fluorescent lights, like a houseplant, to trick her biological clock into the state of readiness it might not otherwise reach before early summer. Why?

A horse's gestation period is about 11 months. If she bears a foal early next year, it would have a maturity advantage over competitors born later because the thoroughbreds' birthdays are set at Jan. 1, no matter the month they're born.

To rush her liaison with Meadow Monster, Miss Piggy was examined repeatedly, her ovaries imaged on a $16,000 ultrasound machine, her reproductive cycle jump-started by injection of a medicine that brings mares into heat.

Now that insemination has taken place, Miss Piggy goes to pasture for two weeks. Then, if ultrasound detects a developing foal, there will be no need for her to return to the breeding shed.

Instead, she'll be sent to her new home on Hipple's 20-acre farm in Ivyland, Pa., to receive prenatal care and await the birth. Due date: around March 8.

Would the new owners prefer a colt or a filly? A gray or a bay?

"It doesn't matter," said Herlinger, "as long as it's healthy and straight-legged."

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