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UM showcases first foals born on campus in 30 years

College junior Steve Moirano has no children of his own, but he played the proud parent Saturday as a pair of foals debuted to a crowd of onlookers at the University of Maryland campus farm.

"What was it like?" Brandon Hurn, a sophomore chemical engineering student, asked Moirano, referring to a mare known as Amazin'. "Were you there?"

"I actually pulled the foals out," answered Moirano, an animal sciences major planning to go into veterinary medicine. He and a few classmates were on hand to show off the foals — the first born on the farm in 30 years — and answer questions at Maryland Day, the university's annual campuswide showcase.

The equine births added a hands-on laboratory experience like no classroom lecture for Moirano and 16 other students. And there could soon be more — agriculture school officials plan to broaden the recently renewed horse-breeding program on the campus.

The foals added to the annual "Ag Day" showcase at Maryland Day, drawing crowds of children and grown-up animal enthusiasts. They showed their youth, trotting around in fits and starts, suckling their mothers and laying lazily in the sun.

Onlookers meanwhile weighed in on what announcers could one day bellow at Pimlico Race Course or other horse tracks around the state — voting in a contest to choose the thoroughbreds' future racing names.

Two mares — Amazin' and Daylight Lassie (better known to campus farmhands as Cassie) — arrived in College Park in February from a university farm in Clarksville. And they made for some unusual midterm exercises for students in a class on equine reproduction.

Cassie gave birth first, to a chestnut colt known around the barn as Rebel, in March. Amazin' followed with Tessie, a brown filly, earlier this month.

"It's been a busy semester," said Moirano, who serves as an intern to Amy Burk, coordinator of the equine studies program in the agriculture school's animal and avian sciences department. That entailed about 20 hours a week of work tending to the mares and foals before and after the births, as well as the tricky deliveries themselves.

Live equine births last took place on the campus farm in the 1980s, when there was more acreage for horses to pasture. Burk sought to change that. "We wanted to make our program better," she said.

The foals brought plenty of attention to the program Saturday. Children climbed a fence around the horse pens for a look at the horses, including 6-year-old Sara Yarnell of Hyattsville. She has spent a lot of time playing with horse-themed Lego sets and was eager to see them in real life.

"We came to Maryland Day for the horses," said Kristi Yarnell, Sara's mother. Sara's choices for the foals' racing names? "Maryland Miss" and "Blazin' Terp." Votes are being taken until May 6 at agnr.umd.edu/foalvote.

The foals could also help contribute to the state's horse racing industry. After they are weaned in September, they will be sold at auction, with the proceeds — and some of any future winnings — going back to the university, Burk said.

Given that the stallion fee to have the mares impregnated cost $4,000 apiece, the aim is to command more than that, she said. But they could go for at least $1,000, she said.

"Sometimes people might think, that is the horse they want," Burk said. "There's a little bit of luck involved."

Future foals at the campus farm could carry some noble blood. Daylight Lassie is slated to be mated for a second time with Friesan Fire, who raced in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, as early as next week.

And Amazin' is set to be matched with Nicanor, a stallion in his first year of breeding who is a full brother to Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner whose leg shattered two weeks later at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

sdance@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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