Saturday, May 18, 2013

Raceplates and Horseshoers in Preakness Stakes History

In this ad from the Daily Racing Form in 1931, Victory proclaims that racehorse Mate ran in the Preakness wearing the new-fangled aluminum raceplates--and won! It took a lot of years to convince trainers and horseshoers to switch from steel to aluminum. In 2011, Shackleford won in Polyflex glue shoes. 

It's Preakness Stakes day, 2013-style, in the USA! Whether you think Kentucky Derby winner Orb is a shoe-in to win in his Jim Bayes Jr. crafted raceplates or if you like California's Goldencents, shod by Jim Jimenez, today's the day they line up at the Baltimore, Maryland track affectionately known as "Old Hilltop" for the second leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing.

What is it about Maryland? Why are there so many connections to the Triple Crown that pass through this state?

As the racing world comes to Baltimore for the second leg of the Crown, it also enters a zone of rich hoofcare tradition, historic icons and even a noisy factory where the raw material of aluminum is crafted into the delicate raceplates today's runners will wear.

You can hear all about it, too: National Pubic Radio (NPR) devoted a big segment today to Baltimore's own aluminum racing plate factory known as the Victory Racing Plate Company, including a listen-in podcast version of NPR interviewing Victory President Dave Erb and Baltimore-area racetrack shoer Joe Ludford.

The sound file is complete with the factory noise in the background! You can hear it today on many NPR stations or listen to / read a transcription on the NPR web site:
Shoe Maker Primes Horses For The Track (Victory Raeing Plate Company)

While Dave states that eight of the 11 winners of the Triple Crown wore Victory Racing Plates, it might be an even better statistic if people knew that Sir Barton won the Triple Crown before aluminum plates like Victory's were available.

The last farrier to shoe a Triple Crown winner was Affirmed's Elmer Campbell, who was from Maryland, as well. He shod Affirmed in 1978, and no one has won the Triple Crown since. The year before, Seattle Slew, who won the Triple Crown in 1977, wore shoes fitted for him by another Maryland horseshoer, Dave Pearce.

Andrew McDermott with Man o' War's
 shoes. He described himself as the
great horse's "farrier and shoeing
smith". (McDermott family photo)
Man o' War didn't win the Triple Crown--he never had a chance, since he wasn't entered in the Kentucky Derby in the first place. He did defeat the very first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, however. Sir Barton was shod by Mr. Widener's exclusive horseshoer, Benjamin Franklin Talbert, who lined the colt's shoes with piano-key felt to protect his fragile feet.

Man o' War's horseshoer (blacksmith) Andrew McDermott shod him for his race start on this day almost 100 years ago, when he won the 1920 Preakness on May 18. McDermott identified himself as the great colt's "farrier and shoeing smith".

Hoofcare Publishing is working on compiling an honor roll of horseshoers who worked on Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners of the past (and present). If you have information, please send an email or get in touch however you can. You can also leave a comment at the end of this article.

The news from Maryland hasn't always been happy; in the 1960s, union horseshoers--members of the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers--in Maryland refused to shoe the horses of Canadian owners who did not use union horseshoers back home in Toronto. The owners sued, and the case went to US Court of Appeals as an early example of the emerging union-busting fervor that would dominate the second half of the 20th century.

It's not all about the past in Baltimore: Shackleford won the 2011 Preakness wearing synthetic glue-on Polyflex shoes for a Triple Crown first.  And who could forget the polymer-plastic armor around Big Brown's feet when he won the Preakness in 1998?

Elmer, Dave, Andrew and the rebellious horseshoers of the IUJH's Local 7 may be gone, but there is a new generation of farriers working the tracks and farms in Maryland today. People like Berkley Kern, who seem to understand the tradition that they follow every day as they make their way around the barns.

On Saturday morning, Derby winner Orb--who shares a connection to Maryland via one of his owners, Mr. Janney--is the odds-on favorite to win the Preakness, even after drawing the inside post on the rail. It's up to him now, to make his way into the history books if he can. He'll be in good company on those pages that are rich with connections to Maryland.

Good luck to everyone, and don't miss it! The telecast begins at 5:00 p.m. EDT on NBC with the actual post time of the race estimated around 6:30.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. 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). Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to
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