Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shoeless and Ageless, Tahoe Warrior Wins at Keeneland

Keeneeland Racecourse in Kentucky has a Polytrack all-weather surface that has been used by trainers as a test for a few horses each week to run without shoes. 
It was the last race of the day. Maybe no one will remember it, except it’s not every day that a horse pays $40 on a $2 bet. It’s not every day that a ten-year-old gelding with no less than 84 starts under his girth wins one. It’s not every day that trainer Wayne Rice stands in the Keeneland winners circle, a place usually reserved for the likes of Todd Pletcher and D. Wayne Lukas.

And it’s not every day that a horse with no shoes wins a race.

Because if one did, you'd probably have read about it here.

This fall on Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack all-weather track, no horse without shoes has even finished in the money. Several trainers have experimented with removing front, hind or all shoes from horses running on the surface, citing benefits like a horse with less muscle soreness or back pain, as well as less expense and fewer shoe-related emergencies and injuries.

Rice was doing much better with his unshod starters in the spring Keeneland meet; this fall, they’ve been up the track until the aptly-named senior citizen (by track terms) Tahoe Warrior set his bare hoof on the Polytrack today.

This was Tahoe Warrior’s 15th start in 2013, and his sixth win this year; it was his 16th career win. He's earned more than $60,000 since January and has won almost $500,000 in his career. In 2010, he won the $100,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint on the grass at Calder in Florida after being claimed for $20,000 from leading New York trainer Linda Rice. And he’s still running. He was twice the age (or more) of most of the 11 other horses in the race.

Keeneland's Polytrack all-weather surface has a different friction co-efficient from the dirt surface that most horses race and train on at other tracks. When they come to Keeneeland to race in the spring or fall, trainers may use a different shoe, remove turndowns, and even remove some or all of the shoes for training and/or racing.
The form writer at Keeneland looked at his numbers and didn't think much of his chances to win today, but Tahoe Warrior probably didn’t know the odds were so stacked against him.

It was a seven-furlong claiming race for a $10,000 tag if anyone wanted to take Tahoe Warrior back to a different barn, or take him home and turn him out.

No one did.

But I wanted to write what will probably be the only article that anyone, anywhere will ever write about this old horse, whose name may or may not ever show up in a racing form again. But if it doesn’t, he left the game a winner, and a lot of people who follow odd statistics--like shoeless starters on Polytrack--will know old Tahoe Warrior's name.

• • • •

On Thursday, October 24, Contrapuntal (#10, 15-1) in the first race and Triple Cross (#5, 10-1) in the fourth race, will run without shoes.

Horses running at Keeneland are taking advantage of the track surface and are not likely part of a holistic hoofcare regimen. It's interesting to see how these horses do.

A shoe identification board at Keeneland identifies most of the shoes that might be seen under the horses in a race, but it doesn't mention that a few trainers race horses without shoes.
Keeneland shoeing rules: No toe grabs, calks, stickers, inserts, blocks, or turndowns 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. Keeneland shall determine, in its sole discretion, whether shoes constitute the “Equivalent,” which decision shall be binding on all parties.

Photos by David Paul Ohmer, Skpy, and Lisa.

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