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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Keeneland and Turfway Park: No Toe Grabs, Front or Hind

What's worse, the toe grab or the long toe? Some people believe that this distorted hoof shape is typical of racehorses in the United States (and elsewhere). On the other hand, in New York, people tsk-tsk that the feet are too short. Does the toe grab have the same effect on the coffin joint when the foot is short? This photo is from the research conducted by Kentucky farrier Mitch Taylor. He put a leg in a vice and applied pressure. The point of this photo is to show the affect of the toe grab when the foot is on a hard surface, pushing the forces back but, more importantly, compressing the joint space in the coffin joint, between P2 and P3. Presumably, galloping at speed would have a similar effect. Mitch has put a lot of work into these studies; he also has been making high speed video recordings of horses wearing different shoes and galloping over different track surfaces. Mitch's research is part of his work with the Grayson Jockey Club Foundation's Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a press release tonight from the website for the Keeneland Racecourse and Turfway Park, two Thoroughbred tracks in Kentucky that both use Polytrack surfaces.

As background, the racing commission in Kentucky announced earlier this week that it would recommend that the legislative committee in the state government endorse its decision to ban toe grabs and other traction adaptations on front shoes at all tracks in the state. The verbiage was based on a recommended model rule from the new Safety Comittee of the Grayson Jockey Club Foundation.

The next day, Penn National Gaming, a conglomerate of tracks that includes Charles Town in West Virginia and Penn National in Pennsylvania, announced that they would also ban front grabs and traction devices.

And today, although I only learned of it this evening, this announcement that goes a Secretariat-length stride farther:

(begin press release)

Officials at Keeneland and Turfway Park today announced a new shoe policy banning the use of toe grabs. The policy is effective at both racetracks beginning September 1. Rogers Beasley, Keeneland’s director of racing, and Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park, said in a joint statement: “We applaud the efforts of the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee, TOBA’s Thoroughbred Action Committee and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to address safety in racing. Their unanimous support for a ban on the use of toe grabs is a significant step toward improving the welfare of horses. The policy, which will apply to all horses training and racing on Keeneland’s Polytrack and Turf course, as well as Turfway’s Polytrack, states, “No toe grabs, caulks, stickers, inserts, blocks, turndowns, trailers or heel extensions will be allowed on front or hind shoes. Only flat, Queen’s Plate, Queen’s Plate XT or equivalent may be used on the Polytrack or Turf.”

Both tracks are closed to racing for the summer, and will reopen in September for fall meets, but presumably horses are in training and would be affected.

Up to this point, hind shoes had never been in any suggested rules.

Yes, horseshoers have been voicing their opinions. While many are not particularly fans of toe grabs, especially on front feet, they fear that any rule that bans this and that opens the door for them and those. For instance, notice that the Keeneland/Turfway rule does not mention bends. Bends may not help a horse on Polytrack much, but neither would the other adaptations listed.

Horseshoers are concerned about traction and the safety of the horses both getting out of the gate and around the turns. One shoer last night suggested that getting rid of toe grabs would make the most lucrative job on the racetrack that of the chiropractor, and that gluteal muscle injuries would be the most likely manifestation if hind toe grabs were ever removed.

Maybe we'd better start taking reservations for seats at our "Hoofcare@Saratoga" August 5th forum on racetrack shoeing in Saratoga Springs. The August 12th "Hoofcare@Saratoga" forum is on hoof injuries, especially quarter cracks, and we have added Dr. Mick Peterson from the University of Maine as a speaker, along with Ian McKinlay of Big Brown fame and Conny Svensson of Moni Maker (Standardbred) fame. Dr Peterson is the country's leading researcher on racetrack surfaces and how the horse's hoof hits them.

(For more information about the Hoofcare@Saratoga forums and events in August, click here.)

So far, California, Florida and New York tracks and racing jurisdictions have not weighed in on this issue. Last year, California banned excessive toe grabs over 4 mm high on front shoes.


rather rapid said...

I am glad that someone (finally) is starting to question this stuff. My reaction has been that the "toe grab" thing has been pushed forward by a couple of people with an "agenda" and that the supposed "research" being used in addition to flaws in the basic method, the studies themselves declare the effect of toe grabs to be "inconclusive" (the one's I've read.)

I personally did some testing in the year 2000. I strongly believe that racing horses in Queens (and I've done it on numerous occasions) is absurd. They slip and slide all over the place on deep tracks. Additionally, I determined that some horses strides are significantly affected detrimentally by lack of full grabs, and that the stride is also affected slightly by different style shoes front-hind. Glad to hear on your post what's being done, and would look forward to more details!

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Mr. Rapid, nice to hear from you on this issue.

Yes, I do question the whole premise of shoe rule changes because I think the evidence is still being gathered and statewide laws are much tougher to change than so-called "house" rules, or track by track shoe regulations.

However, beyond that, I think the glass is half full, not half empty because even if toe grabs are not a factor in breakdowns, it is getting some money into shoe research and that can only help horses coming along in the future.

There are a couple of shoes in the pipeline--maybe lots--that may be helpful but mainly it is getting people talking about shoes, what works and what doesn't on which tracks, that excites me because people other than my tribe never even looked at the feet until recently.

It's catch-up time!

All the best,