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Monday, August 24, 2009

Rachel and Kensei: Footwear of the Fleet and Famous during Travers Week at Saratoga

by Fran Jurga | 24 August 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

With legs like these, you can understand why champion racehorse Rachel Alexandra was chosen to model for a portrait in the August issue of Vogue magazine. She posed for fashion photographer (and horse owner) Stephen Klein soon after winning the Preakness Stakes in May. Sarah K. Andrew snapped this shot in Saratoga a few weeks ago, when Rachel was awaiting a visit by horseshoer David Hinton.

Note: the double or bonded shoe on her left front is an optical illusion; it's a reflection in a puddle on the stall mat. Rachel wears flat made-in-the-USA raceplates in front, according to Hinton and is so well mannered that when he accidentally dropped her foot once, she delicately picked her foot back up and placed it right back in his hand.

What's the definition of pressure in horse racing? Hinton knew he might need to shoe Rachel Alexandra after she was purchased in early May. When the decision was made to run her in the Preakness, it meant that she needed to be shod that day. That's right: the morning of the race. Each nail driven into the hoof was a chance to draw blood; one jerk, one rear and a rasp might scrape her coronet. But nothing went wrong. Nothing has gone wrong, that we know of. She just keeps on running.

Comparing this photo to the Vogue shot, I'd say the combination of a Saratoga lifestyle, Asmussen training, Hinton's hoofcare and Jackson ownership are all agreeing with the filly; her hoof walls look much better after a couple of months at the Spa. Maybe Rachel should consider permanent residence!

NEWS FLASH! Trainer Steve Asmussen announced this morning that Rachel Alexandra will run against older horses in the Woodward at Saratoga on September 5th. The Grade 1 Woodward is a 1 1/8 miles and on dirt, of course. Now, if it could just be on television...

Rachel's stablemate Kensei is headed to Saturday's Traves Stakes for three-year-olds, where he will face Quality Road, Summer Bird and Mine That Bird, among others. Kensei made winning the Jim Dandy Stakes look easy; he did it wearing these Burns Polyflex glue-on shoes. They have the square-toe polyurethane design made for another Asmussen trainee, Curlin, when he was training at Saratoga last summer. Kensei is still carrying some of the racetrack around with him as a souvenir.

Athletic footwear is a big deal in other sports, why am I the only one who seems to care about what these horses are wearing? It does make a difference: just like a basketball player prefers a certain brand of shoe or height of shoe, these horses must have preferences. They just can't tell us. But they can tell a good horseshoer, and they do.

A good horseshoer can see in the way the shoe is worn, and where it is worn and not worn, whether the horse is using the shoe and landing in a functional way, and using the shoe to push off. You can read a horseshoe and you can read a foot, and if you're good at it, you can help keep a horse comfortable and safe on its feet. It's an important job. And it matters. Boy, does it matter.

Many, many thanks to Sarah K. Andrew for her patience and effort in getting these photos and allowing The Hoof Blog to post them here. Sarah became intrigued with her own horse's shoeing and started to notice the feet of horses at the track, much to my delight. Most photographers don't even think to aim the camera at a horse's feet and legs, but there's a lot of information there that a good photograph can convey, as well as the beauty of one of nature's most amazing structures.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to


Molly Knott said...

I care, Fran! And am learning a lot from your posts! Thnx!

Fran Jurga said...

Thanks, Molly, that is so wonderful. You and the photographer, Sarah, have a lot in common. So maybe I'm not just talking to myself...?

Anonymous said...

Watching and waiting all the time all the time. Keep up the information flow it's much appreciated.

Juanjo said...

Muy bien Fran, I agree 100% -Athletic footwear is a big deal in other sports- BUT/AND you're not the only one who seems to care about what these horses are wearing.
I have publicity for the different brands and shoe models we sell with pictures of different sports and his correspondent shoes comparing with the horse sports: Horse jumping shoes/high jump sneakers, Dressage/ ballet slipper, Trail riding shoes/hiking-mountaineering boots,...
And yes and yes and yes, they feel the difference, and also the good farrier


Bill said...

Hi Fran-

I read your recent piece in Trainer Magazine regarding the hoof and synthetic surfaces.

I have captured heart rate and GPS data on horses in training at both Keeneland and Churchill that seems to indicate that poly is MUCH easier on horses than is dirt.

I believe that the regimen of MinethatBird was accidentally genius as he spent his early career on poly, but later toughened up on dirt in time to peak by triple crown season.

A Bay Horse said...

I love seeing what footwear the horses are sporting. I learn a lot about what is out there on the cutting edge. Those glue-ons are interesting looking.

rather rapid said...

is it another optical illusion that the right (rear) branch of Rachel's left shoe in the photo seems to extend back well beyond the hoof wall? looks like a sprung shoe waiting to happen.