Of all the thankless tasks known to man or beast, nothing could be worse than the job of a teaser pony.
People involved in the thoroughbred breeding business need a way to tell when their mares are in season, when they are ready to be mated with a stallion. This undoubtedly could be done with scientific methods, but using a teaser pony is a lot easier and cheaper.
Every day during the breeding season, the pony is brought into contact with a number of mares. Since boys will be boys, he always is ready for action. The mares' reactions will vary. Lester Mackebee, a breeder in Woodbine, Md., explains how the system works. "If the mare isn't interested, she might try to kick him. If she's on the verge, she might let him lick her neck. Or she might show signs that she's ready."
In the latter case, the mare will be vanned to a stud farm to be mated to a stallion. In any event, the teaser pony is out of luck. Either he gets kicked, or he gets frustrated. Eventually a teaser may be useless because he has become too bored or too mean. But Mackebee's teaser, Pilot Ship, is a rare exception who has found a new lease on life.
Pilot Ship was bred to be a good horse. He is a son of the great Hoist the Flag and the descendant of a fine female family. Unfortunately, he didn't have much ability, and he won only one race in three years of competition. Because of his excellent pedigree, he got a chance to be a stallion, and spent three seasons at stud in Maryland and Kentucky. But almost nobody was interested in Pilot Ship; he was bred to only a few mares. When Mackebee was looking for a new teaser pony, a friend told him he could get Pilot Ship cheap. Very cheap. The sale price was $1.
"He wasn't a proven bust as a sire," Mackebee said, "but there was just no interest in him. There are a million horses like him. The owner told me, 'You want him, you can have him.' "
Pilot Ship performed his new duties as he was supposed to, but Mackebee said, "He was (frustrated). We'd give him candied mints as a reward now and then, but it was a damned poor substitute."
Pilot Ship was toiling in utter obscurity, until Sept. 3. On that day, a filly with the inelegant name of Bug Eyed Betty won the $30,000 Toddler Stakes at Pimlico. The 2-year-old was the offspring of a dam named Early Lass, one of the few mares who had been bred to Pilot Ship during his brief stud career. Bug Eyed Betty showed this victory was no fluke when she won the All Along Stakes at Laurel two weeks ago, running a mile in 1:36 3/5. She may be the best Maryland-bred filly of her age, and she is not too far behind the top juvenile fillies in the East.
Suddenly, Mackebee's phone has been ringing with inquiries about his $1 teaser pony. Pilot Ship now has pretty decent credentials, with his excellent pedigree and a stakes winner from his first crop. The owner has set a $1,000 stud fee for the horse's services next season -- not a bad return on his initial $1 investment. But as pleased as he may be by these developments, he couldn't be as happy as Pilot Ship must be.