Talk about a stud alert.
When the Preakness comes to town, Baltimore plays host to some of the most eligible bachelors around.
Of course, they're four-legged and more neurotic than even the usual crop at the local singles bar. And, boy, can they run away from you fast if so inclined.
We're talking about Thoroughbred horses, of course, those men-about-Pimlico this time of year. (Although the Preakness is open to both colts and fillies, it's more of a boys club. Fifty-one fillies have raced in the Preakness over the years, and four were victorious.)
They're enviable creatures -- handsome and groomed to a sheen, well-bred and -traveled, welcome in all the right social circuits.
But if you think you have it rough in the romance department, consider the sex life of the average Thoroughbred. For one thing, it's totally unnatural: In the wild, horses organize themselves into bands of 30 to 40 mares and one stallion who roam about and mate at will and whimsy. (In the human world, presumably, they would be called a cult.) But in captivity, any social life for Thoroughbreds is highly regulated -- worse than any computer dating service you've ever been funneled through.
Still, the sex lives of Thoroughbred horses are endlessly intriguing, as full of inbreeding and failures to produce suitable heirs, actually, as the British royal family. (Which, come to think of it, may explain the horsy fascination that runs rampant through the family of Queen Elizabeth II.)
So in honor of the Preakness, here's a look at the dating and mating habits of this racy set.
A HORSE IS A HORSE, OF COURSE, OF COURSE. NOT!
Before we can talk sex, we have to identify the players. If you can't tell a colt from a gelding -- Ha! The gelding sure can! -- here's a glossary of horse talk:
Foal -- A baby horse, of either sex.
Filly -- A girl horse, under 5 years old.
Colt -- A boy horse, 4 years and under.
Mare -- A woman horse, 5 years or older.
Stallion -- A man horse, 5 years or older.
Dam -- A mare who becomes a mommy.
Sire -- A stallion who becomes a daddy.
Broodmare -- A mare whose sole purpose is to have foals.
Stud -- A stallion whose sole purpose is to sire foals.
Gelding -- A male who will never be a stud because he was castrated.
Teaser -- A male who is sent out to test whether a mare is in heat and ready to breed. If so, a real stud is sent in to do the honors (and the poor teaser, apparently, to a cold shower).
THE FATHERS OF THEM ALL
All Thoroughbreds descended from just three stallions imported to England from Arabia and North Africa around the beginning of the 18th century. Their names were: Byerly Turk (a Turkish stallion ridden by a Captain Byerly), Darley Arabian (an Arabian owned by a racing enthusiast named Darley -- horse names were less lyrical back then) and Godolphin Barb a k a Godolphin Arabian, who deserves a little more than a parenthetical explanation:
The stallion was a gift from the bey of Tunis to Louis XV of France, where he got no respect -- his neck was deemed unattractively thick. Either sold or given away, he ended up pulling a water-seller's cart through the streets of Paris. Ultimately he was discovered and, several transactions later, put to stud by a Lord Godolphin.
"It was only after repeated refusals by a mare that the ugly stallion from Tunis managed to mate," notes the book "Great Stud Farms of the World."
But once he got going, boy, oh, boy: "The results were so 'D promising, that he was mated with other mares, and his descendants were soon found in the forefront of the racetracks."
He lived to the ripe old age of 29.
WHERE TO FIND A STUD
The Social Registry of Thoroughbred horses is "The General Stud Book," published since 1793.
HOW TO BECOME A STUD
=1 Don't get too fat or you'll become infertile.
HOW TO CATCH A STUD
Don't get too fat or too thin.
"Old mares, over-fat mares or mares in a thin, run down condition are less likely to be good breeders," says the Complete Encyclopedia of Horses. That, however, may be the price a mare pays for having a career before a family. "Unfortunately, these conditions apply to mares that are bred following retirement from the racetrack or the show-ring," the encyclopedia says.
'WHAT'S YOUR SIGN, HONEY?'
Not a good pickup line in a singles bar, if you're a horse (or even if you're human). Horses are all Capricorns: All foals are given a Jan. 1 birthday regardless of when they're born. It helps organize races and shows.
WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Not much, at least on breeding farms, where the sex act is known as "the service."
As in, stallions should be limited to no more than two services a day, one early in the morning, one late in the afternoon. And allow him to rest on the seventh day.
For the mare, at least the ones trying to get pregnant, getting serviced daily or every other day while in heat is best. And,
unlike the stud, never twice a day.
THE SHORT AND HAPPY SEX LIFE OF A STUD
Racehorses generally peak at age 3, after which they are put to stud. Breeders recommend that 3-year-olds limit themselves to 20 to 25 mares a season. When they're 4 and 5 years old, they can have 25 to 30 mares. Studs can continue siring offspring up to the age of 20 or 25.
THE SHORT AND HAPPY SEX LIFE OF A MARE
Fillies can start breeding at age 2, but their owners usually wait another year. Spring is when their thoughts turn to fancy: It's the best time of year for both breeding and foaling. Pregnancy usually runs about 336 days.
HEY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THAT CORNER!
A horse that seems to be what's politely called a "shy breeder" or even infertile may be, well, enjoying himself all by himself. This sometimes can be "cured" merely by putting him where he can see other horses.
HOW TO TELL IF A MARE IS WILLING?
In addition to physical signs that a mare is in heat -- we'll leave that to the animal husbandry experts -- a mare will start teasing other mares at this time. Also, she will show a distinct desire for male companionship.
Great horses are not always great studs. The first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton (1919), a chestnut colt with a great big heart that made up for his physical limitations, turned out to be a dud of a stud following his racing career. After failing to live up to the siring greatness expected of him, he was turned over to military duty of sorts -- ending his years at a U.S. Army remount ranch in Wyoming.
Yet, other grand men of the sport continued producing off-track. Bold Ruler, the Preakness champ in 1957, was the father of Secretariat (1973 Triple Crown) and the grandfather of Seattle Slew (1977 Triple Crown). And Secretariat did his part as well -- his son, Risen Star, won the Preakness in 1988.
Man o' War created a veritable dynasty -- he produced 386 foals and became the first sire whose offspring won more than $3 million in stakes purses.
GOOD BREEDING ISN'T EVERYTHING
Perhaps Thoroughbreds need to get out and about a little more, geneticists speculate. While their human counterparts -- Olympic runners -- are about 20 percent faster today than at the turn of the century, Thoroughbreds haven't dramatically improved their speed over that same time -- possibly because of too much inbreeding, geneticists believe. Mating with horses from the other side of the track might add some spice to the average Thoroughbred's life. But it would mean that their offspring wouldn't be allowed to compete in the prestigious competitions.
JEAN MARBELLA is a features writer for The Sun.