Friday, April 13, 2012

Ever So Lucky Horseshoe Helped Colt Train for Keeneland's Toyota Bluegrass Stakes

"Like my new shoe? Pretty cool, eh?" Ever So Lucky, with the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, worked under jockey Julian Leparoux on Tuesday morning over Keeneland's Polytrack surface. As he straightened out from the turn the three-year-old son of Indian Charlie flipped his fetlock and let ace photographer Wendy Wooley have a good look at his special bar shoe. (Image © Wendy Wooley/Equisport Photos)
One of top contenders in tomorrow's Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Kentucky's Keeneland Racecourse is aptly named. "Ever So Lucky" should count his blessings that his connections knew the number of a horseshoer who could lend a hand--and a shoe--after the colt grabbed the outside heel of his right front foot.

Except he didn't just grab it. He ripped a chunk of it off.

Enlargement of Ever So Lucky's
front foot. (© Wendy
Equisport Photos)
"It looked like hamburger."

Kentucky horseshoer Steve Norman wasn't talking about what he ordered for lunch at the track kitchen. He was talking about what he saw when he picked up Ever So Lucky's right front foot a few weeks ago.

He was brought in by the veterinarian to see what could be done to keep the horse in training for his Pennsylvania-based Hall of Fame trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.

"He ripped the meat of his heel bulb right off," Steve said, echoing what I had read in the Barn Notes for Keeneland. "But that happens a lot. It probably happened in the starting gate, that's where it usually does. A horse scrambles and that hind foot just reached up there."

Steve Norman is busy this time of year. In the past, he shod Kentucky Derby winners like Alysheba, Go for Gin, War Emblem and possibly others. In 2009, he shod five runners in the Derby--he must have been in demand for tips that year.

Here's a z bar shoe photo from the vault. The aluminum bar is welded into a Thoro'Bred plate. From the archive of aluminum bar shoes created by the late, great Emil Carre. (© Hoofcare Publishing)

Steve Norman's solution for Ever So Lucky was to build a z bar shoe by welding a frog support and a heel bypass into a racing plate. It's not a new answer for the Nebraska native and former jockey--he used a similar shoe on Unbridled's Song, now one of the country's top sires, when he needed to train for the Derby in 1996. That colt injured his heel bulb in the Wood Memorial while prepping for the Derby.

The z bar is often seen on horses with a quarter crack on heel bulb injury. It transfers some of the load to the frog. "You might even call it a half a heart bar," Steve mentioned. "I just shaped the shoe and welded in the bar. The insert z's over in front of the injury."

Like Unbridled Song, Ever So Lucky trained in the special shoe but if you're around the backside at Keeneland early Saturday morning, you might see Augustin Stable’s colt get switched back to a plain shoe. (The similarity ends there: Unbridled's Song switched to egg bars for the Derby, finished fifth, and sat out the rest of the Triple Crown.)

Steve Norman is ambivalent about changing the horse back over. "He could run in that shoe, without a problem," he said Friday afternoon from a stop at Ashford Stud. "Especially on that Polytrack at Keeneland. If he was at Churchill, yes, I'd never hesitate. An aluminum bar shoe with a frog like that is going to slide in the dirt but on's so much stickier.

Here's a freeform imitation (sort of) of a z bar that I found when I picked up the foot of an event horse with a quarter crack. Ever So Lucky's connections are hesitant to race him on Polytrack without heel support under his injury. This horse had just completed an upper level cross-country course at a three-day event. I wonder how he fared at the trot-up the next morning. (© Hoofcare + Lameness file photo)

"We don't have the slip at Keeneland that you see on dirt. But it's fine to switch him, too," Steve said before starting his next horse.

Z bar shoes are either a great solution or...not, according to many horseshoers. They are often used for horses with quarter cracks, and are always good for a debate.

While they may raise an eyebrow when a Thoroughbred races in one, the Z-bar shoe for Standardbreds is much more ubiquitous, ever since the 1980s superstar Nihilator seemed to win every big stakes race--and do it in record time--wearing a Z-bar for his quarter cracks. 

Also called a "half mushroom" in some harness circles, the shoe has been the subject of a lot of debate over the years: should the bar be level or set down? Should the bar cross the frog or follow its edge? Joey Carroll was Nihilator's farrier and he always stressed the importance of proper shoe design and application for an injured foot.

"You're only as good as the last shoe you nailed on," is a line I have often heard from Steve Norman. Shoeing a horse to heal an injury while simultaneously keeping the horse comfortable and making it possible for the horse to get out and work in the morning is a Triple Crown feat of its own.

Ever So Lucky didn't train like a layup. He clocked five furlongs in :57 under Leparoux this week.

The Toyota Bluegrass Stakes is one of the final prep races for the 2012 Kentucky Derby. The favorite is the ghostlike gray Breeders Cup winner, Hansen. There's no shortage of interesting horses headed to the gate with him; the purse is $750,000 and possibly the bonus of a trip to Louisville on the first Saturday in May for the winner.

To learn more:

The Hoof Blog's perspective on quarter cracks and heel bulb injuries in a historical survey of this prevalent problem in Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing

Read about Steve Norman's hoof work on Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem for Bob Baffert.

Read "Hoof Care and Shoeing: Barring difficulty" with horseshoers Mark Dewey and Sonny Broaddus commenting, along with Kentucky trainer John Ward, on z-bar shoes.

For more on Nihilator and his Z-bar, dust off the photo and story in Hoofcare & Lameness 10, December 1985.

Thanks to Wendy and Matt Wooley of Equisport Photos for noticing Ever So Lucky's special shoe on Tuesday--and for thinking of the Hoof Blog. Wendy and Matt write the "Turf and Dirt" blog and will keep you connected with the Kentucky Thoroughbred scene in a brilliantly visual way. Their current top story is a photo collection of Rachel Alexandra at home in her paddock at Stonestreet Farm.

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