The sixth annual "Run for the Rodents" was held last Wednesday, as usual, 10 days before the "Run for the Roses." Six hooded rats showed up for the call to the post. Their names were Martha, Rosemary, Patricia, Archibald, Sam and Deep Throat.
"Each year there's a theme for the naming of the contestants in the field," Sister Julia Claire said. "This year it's Watergate. And we're delighted The Post came, but where's Woodward and Bernstein?"
I tried to explain, but the nun had other problems.
"We have received a few calls from several ladies in the area," she said. "They were very much upset that a Catholic college would publicize a rat named Deep Throat. I'm afraid they were associating the name with something other than Watergate."
Deep Throat, as it turned out, won the Great Rat Race rather handily, beating Rosemary by a tail in the finals.
"He was favored," Jerry Prince informed. "In one of the trials he completed the 17-foot course in one second, a record, so he figured."
Prince is something else, a psychology major who is a graduate student here at Spalding College. The rodents' recent rambling is tied in to his research paper: "The Effect of Fondling and Cuddling at Performance Time."
"I've worked with rats for three years," the owner-trainer-breeder of the entire field explained. "The starting gate was my idea, too. There are six chutes for them to come out of, when I raise the plastic shield. The course is a rectangle. A plastic shield keeps any of the competitors from taking a shortcut, across the infield."
Deep Throat's winning time was 1.7 seconds, on the college's official stop-watch. DT is the best runner Prince has developed. The average clocking is 2.5, which leaves little time for sniffing around.
"Jerry really had to start from scratch this year." Sister Julia Claire noted. "I got he idea to start this event six years ago, when one of the students at Derby time said they were tired of the hectic rat race. But this January, there was a disaster. We were off from school, because of the ice and snow. I came over to feed the animals in the biology lab, and the thermostat had gone crazy. It was 110. We had to go to the pet shop."
Prince was not discouraged. He quickly put together an outstanding lineup for the sixth rat classic.
"I have to wait two months, before starting to work with them," he said. "Then the rats are kept down to 90 percent of their body weight. When they're down to that, they're hungry, and they're ready to run for their food.
"It used to take me three weeks to train them. Now it's one week. I put the food, at first, in front of the gate. You can see where they're clawed the plastic, to get out. Then they learn to run to spots around the course, farther and farther away, toward the finish line, where there's a peanut butter cookie.
"I'm making progress," Prince added. "The time, at first, was three to five minutes. But they still puzzle me, occasionally. I've got one rat who's very, very fast out of his chute in the gate. He's fast, 'til the quarter pole. Then he slows down. Why, I don't know. Maybe it's memory track, or something. Maybe he remembers what the food was, and slows down."
If Prince is making progress with his rats, so is Splading with its race. The affair will be formally listed as part of Kentucky Derby Festival Week in 1979.
The date is late April, 1979. The site, Spalding College. If you're a believer in the betterment of the breed; be there. My money's on Willard, or anything from Sefton's Staleg 17 Stable.