Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Can a Loose Shoe Do? Remember Longfellow!

There's an expression, "Safe and Sound" that can be extended to the work that horseshoers do for their four-legged clients. They believe that they put on shoes to help horses run faster, jump better, raise their knees more (or keep them lower), to get traction on ice or on a smooth turf-y jump course.

But they also do their very best to make them safe. They check the nails. They check for loose clinches. They come back for a hot nail. They rasp off any sharp edges. You might think they are making it look pretty, but what they are really doing is keep that sound horse safe out there on the road, track, course, field, or arena.

One of the very most famous stories of a horse with a loose shoe in a race goes back to 1872. The great champion Longfellow was to run in the 2.5 mile Saratoga Cup against a longtime rival, a horse called Harry Bassett.

The 1872 New York Times record of the race begins with this dramatic sentence: SARATOGA, July 16. Never, perhaps, in the racing history of the Saratoga or any other track has such a scene been witnessed as took place today the scene attending the race between Longfellow and Harry Bassett.

On the way to the post, Longfellow's shoe came loose. The race was off, and at the halfway point, he lagged uncharacteristically behind. His jockey went to the whip; it was the first time the champion had ever felt its sting. He accelerated and almost caught his rival; he lost by only a length, and the record was broken for that distance.

When Longfellow pulled up, it was on three legs. The loose shoe had bent over double and was embedded in his frog. One report said he had puled off the heel of his foot. He had kept on running, and almost won. But he never raced again.

Of course, Longfellow's shoes were steel and Big Brown's are a very lightweight aluminum alloy. But that story does drive home the lesson that a loose shoe is a dangerous situation.

Big Brown's shoe was obviously loose...but not that loose. He was lucky. And today, a jockey would be wont to pull up a horse before the damage was done, but go to the whip as they did in 1872.

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