The following appeared in The Daily Racing Form on April 4th. Mr. Ping & Mr. Pong — the twins — are trained by Larry Curtis, who is based at the Middleburg Training Center. His wife Cindy is a VTA Board member.
Regardless of what it says on the tote board, the twins Mr. Ping and Mr. Pong will have already defied astronomical odds when they break from the gate in Friday’s fourth race at Charles Town.
The successful birth of twins is rare for horses, especially Thoroughbreds, due to the risks it can pose to both the mare and foals. About 10 percent of Thoroughbred pregnancies initially result in twins, but almost all of them are either brought down to one by a veterinarian, the mare will abort both potential foals, or complications will lead to at least one stillborn foal.
Difficulties can continue after birth, and the training process can send horses in any number of directions. Still, these twin 3-year-old Denis of Cork colts, out of the unraced Domestic Dispute mare Washingtonian, will debut together in the same race.
The colts were born at Amanda Morro’s Avonwood Farm in Charles Town, W.Va., for owner-breeder John P. Casey. Initial ultrasounds failed to reveal that the mare was carrying twins, and the nearly 17-hands-tall Washingtonian arrived at Avonwood earlier than planned out of concern over different pregnancy complications.
“She carried them and showed no sign of twins, other than she was very big,” said trainer Larry Curtis. “But she was always big, so we didn’t think anything of it.”
When Washingtonian began to foal, Morro was presented with four feet instead of the usual two. Morro thought she was dealing with dystocia – obstructed labor. She tried to hold the foal in place until the vet arrived. Mr. Ping emerged first, with Mr. Pong following a few minutes later.
Both chestnuts sported flashy blazes. Mr. Ping inherited his mother’s socks, but was small and weak, weighing about 25 pounds, compared to the plain-legged Mr. Pong, who pushed 70 pounds and nursed readily.
“Normally, one is bigger than the other, and the smaller twin does not usually survive,” Morro said. “Most of the time they are stillborn. In this situation, he looked very underdeveloped. We knew it was going to be a lot of care.
Mr. Ping continued to go through potentially life-threatening difficulties through his first months, but he was healthy enough to wean with his brother at 6 months old. Curtis took Mr. Pong, while Mr. Ping stayed with Morro for further care. Though he never grew to match his brother’s size, Mr. Ping was eventually deemed ready to join him in training.
Unsurprisingly, Curtis identified the better-developed Mr. Pong as the more likely to succeed of the two, but the trainer said they both have their own strengths.
“He’s a little bit farther along and fitter than the other one, and he’s shown a little bit more talent,” Curtis said of Mr. Pong. “He’s not as good a mover, but the smaller one breaks a little sharper.”
Mr. Pong was set as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line for Friday’s 4 1/2-furlong race, while Mr. Ping is not far behind at 7-2.
Morro said the Avonwood Farm staff would be out in force to watch the foals run. The colts have already developed a following on social media after Morro posted photos of them as foals nursing off their mother.
“I think our Facebook page has had about 34,000 views,” she said. “We’re having some shirts made up, and we’re having the farm crew go to support them. Hopefully they’ll run well.”
Curtis expects the colts want more distance than they will see in their debut, but regardless of how they perform on the track, the trainer already sees potential for their second careers.
“Mr. Pong has a real good disposition, and he’ll make someone a lovely riding horse one day,” he said. “The other one will be a good polo pony one day when he gets through racing, but hopefully we can have some fun with them and win a couple races. We’ll make sure when the time comes that they have good homes.”