Saturday, April 12, 2008

Greetings from the Gluegrass: Will Big Brown and Pyro Choices of Designer Footwear Turn It Into the Ken-STUCK-y Derby?

Risen Star and Louisiana Derby winner Pyro impressed a lot of people this winter. He did it wearing glue-on shoes called Polyflex, shown here on stakes winner Malibu Mint. Little Belle won the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland wearing these shoes last week; that's the track that Pyro will run on today. The shoes are more or less transparent, with a yellowish hue. They have a steel wire core which is shaped like the foot in a special mold, then urethane is poured in to the ideal shape. A steel toe insert completes the kit. (Hoofcare and Lameness Journal photo)

Glue-on horseshoes are the stuff of legend this year as at least two of the Derby favorites flaunt their footwear on the road to the Triple Crown.

In the Southeast corner, we have Big Brown, winner of the Florida Derby by a landslide in spite of recovering from heel wall separations in both front feet. The photo (bottom of this post) shows a typical injury of this type, usually caused by a subsolar abscess, trimming too short, or training and racing on hard tracks (or a combination of these factors).

Ian McKinlay, the New Jersey quarter crack specialist who repaired the detached wall on the first foot, said that the colt "is not a bad-footed horse" and just needed cushioning on the inside heel where an abscess had been. "Chances are, it will grow down, on both feet, and he'll be fine going into the future," Ian said yesterday. "His trainer knows what he's doing."

Ian's solution, which we hope to show on the blog, is a standard one; he says the injury is quite common among both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. He cleaned up the wall from the quarter back to the heel and put a gum rubber insert under the deficit. There's one heel nail holding the glued shoe from slipping, along with a copper clip (the PMMA adhesive sticks very well to copper) on the outside. The gum rubber material is like window caulking; it acts like a gasket. The glue-y shoe is a regular race plate.

(To read more about Big Brown's fancy footwork, see photo below and scroll down to posts and photos from earlier this week, marked April 8.)

And in Kentucky, all eyes will be on Pyro in the Bluegrass Stakes today. I didn't know until this week that Pyro won the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby wearing Curtis Burns' Polyflex all-urethane shoes, and he will apparently have them on today, as well,to run on Keeneland's Polytrack. Pyro's gluesmith is Steve Asmussen's regular horseshoer, David Hinton.

What's in a name? Polytrack seems to agree with Polyflex; you'll agree if you watched Kiaran McLaughlin's trainee Little Belle win the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland last Saturday, with Curtis's see-through shoes glued on her fast little feet.

And who gets the last word in this sticky story? That maven of the media, 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches. It seems R2R, who now resides at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky, was bred to Giant's Causeway last week. To celebrate her future marehood, farrier Steve Norman pulled her raceplates and replaced them with glueons which will stay on for a cycle or two. This is called "transitional shoeing" and is meant to encourage sole growth before she goes barefoot.

Traditionally, fillies and mares coming from the track have their shoes yanked off and they go straight to a barefoot lifestyle. This usually means gimping around the breeding farm for a number of weeks, since the feet are often cut quite short at the track, and the soles can be thin, until the feet toughen up.

One horse who I cannot imagine in gimp-mode is Rags to Riches.

Note: There are special shoes for gluing on racehorses, such as the Polyflex shoes or Sigafoos shoes, with cloth cuffs. Farriers can also glue on or glue-and-nail normal plates or shoes. There are some amazingly creative people working on these horses.

Thanks to all the farriers and trainers who contributed to this and other posts. I know they had a lot to do this week but most took the time to talk because these new shoes are past the "experimental" stage and are now considered creative equipment adjustments. We've come a long way.

This foot has been cleaned up after being blown out by a subsolar heel abscess, similar to the problem that necessitated glue-on shoes for Kentucky Derby hopeful Big Brown. Ian McKinley padded the exposed heel with gum rubber and glued window caulking like a gasket to hold it in so the area is cushioned. At this stage in the procedure, dead or hangnailish wall has been removed. This is NOT Big Brown, who is now well on his way in the healing process. (Ian McKinlay photo)

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