Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Coolmore's Daddy Long Legs to Run Without Shoes in Dubai Stakes Race; Interference Given as Reason for Rule Exception

Halfway around the world, a South African racehorse trainer is taking a chance with a well-known stakes-winning Thoroughbred. And he had to get official clearance to do it.

The Emirates Racing Association in Dubai has granted permission to Coolmore trainer Mike de Kock to pull the shoes on Daddy Long Legs...and keep them pulled. Daddy Long Legs will run in the ten-furlong Potlines Trophy (race 6) on January 30 and he will be excused from wearing shoes.

Racing rules in Dubai require horses to wear shoes. Even if a horse is switched to a bar shoe or glue-ons, permission is required before the horse can run.

De Kock's petition to the stewards does not mean that he is necessarily the latest convert to barefoot principles. Daddy Long Leg has not been successful on the track of late, and de Kock is wisely looking for alternatives.

Should Daddy Long Legs win on Thursday, it will, however, be a feather in many barefoot caps. The colt is owned by Coolmore, perhaps the world's most high-profile racehorse owner.

Daddy Long Legs is a five-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Scat Daddy. He was pulled up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby when trained by Aidan O'Brien. He is a globetrotter who has shown up for major stakes races in the US, Great Britain, Ireland and Dubai. He's settled down in Dubai in recent years; he won the UAE Derby there in 2012. Since moving to de Kock's barn, Daddy Long Legs is reported to have been winless in six starts and finished last in a race last week.

De Kock provided evidence for the stewards that the horse has a gait interference problem, and that he came back injured after his race last week. According to a report on the SkySports website, De Kock stated that the colt "had a tendency to cut its right foreleg when racing in plates as evidenced by its last start at Meydan on 23 January 2014."

"Different types of shoeing had been tried without success," the statement from Meydan continues. "He had worked Daddy Long Legs bare all round and this had been successful. Supporting documentation was received from Mr de Kock's farrier and veterinarian."

De Kock is obviously trying an experiment here; whether it works or not will soon be known. It is possible that the colt will still interfere, but he might do less damage without a metal edge on his hoof.

In the United States, racehorse trainers in California, Kentucky and elsewhere have experimented with removing some or all of a horse's shoes for training and/or racing on artificial surfaces. While conformation and condition still affect a horse's running style and speed, it is generally believed that artificial surfaces affect how long a horse's foot "sticks" to the ground, so that a different effort is required and a different effect may be achieved. The ten-year-old campaigner Tahoe Warrior won at Keeneland in 2013 without shoes.

Horses training on Meydan's Tapeta surface. (Dan Heap photo)
Interference injuries are usually caused by either conformational faults or an abnormal gait timing pattern. Fatigue is also a factor; many otherwise-normal horses will only interfere at a certain pace, such as the drive under the whip at the end of a race, or after a lead change. The interference problem may not be obvious during training or under gait analysis testing, but a farrier will often see evidence when shoeing the horse.

According to which legs are involved, which sport the horse doe and what part of the world you are from, examples of interference are scalping, forging, speedy-cutting, overreaching, cross-firing, knocking, brushing, or any number of other descriptive terms. The problem is that people use the terms interchangeably, so it's often difficult to understand what the horse's actual problem is.

Performance horses often wear bellboots or quarter boots to protect the pasterns and heel bulbs from overreaching hind limbs, but horses also interfere behind and when racing a full-out gallop speed can hit themselves higher up on the leg. Horses with short backs are generally suspected of being potential hitters, but many turn out to be very successful racehorses.

Horses may run slightly differently on artificial surfaces. As a result, some trainers experiment with different shoes or no shoes. Some are successful. Daddy Long Legs, however, has been given the unusual clearance to race on turf without shoes. (San Diego Shooter photo of a California horse racing on an artificial surface.)

Current racing rules for the Dubai Racing Club include these restrictions:
1. For races on grass or an all-weather surface, no horse may enter the parade ring or run in shoes which have protrusions from the ground bearing surface in excess of 2mm, as measured from the plane of the ground bearing surface, or in the case of a plate with multiple planes, the height shall be measured from the plane that allows for the maximum total height (e.g. Queen’s plate XT). 
2. For races on dirt/sand, no horse shall enter the parade ring or run in shoes that have protrusions from the ground bearing surface on the front hooves in excess of 2mm, as measured from the plane of the ground bearing surface, or in the case of a plate with multiple planes, the height shall be measured from the plane that allows for the maximum total height (e.g. Queen’s Plate XT). 
3. Protrusions from the ground bearing surface, toe grabs, turn downs, blocks, calkins and stickers are limited to 1/4 inch (7 mm) on the rear hooves. 
4. No horse may race unshod without the prior approval of the Stewards. 
5. The use of glue-on shoes is permitted on all surfaces under the following conditions.
• The shoes are fitted to the satisfaction of the ERA Farrier.
• Notification is given to the Registry Office by declaration time of the intention to use or cease using glue-on shoes. 
6. Steel training shoes are not permitted in races. 
7. The use of any shoes, other than plain shoes in races requires the prior approval of the Stewards. This includes, bar shoes, pads and substances adhering to the sole of the foot and any other shoe of a non-standard design or nature. Applications for approval may be made up to the time of declarations. 
8. The heads of nails must not protrude more than 2mm from the surface of the shoes as measured from the plane of the ground bearing surface or in the case of a plate with multiple planes, the height shall be measured from the plane that allows for the maximum total height. 
9. Outer rim or outer rim-type shoes are not permitted in races.
While this is an interesting turn of events for such a high-profile horse to run in such a high-profile race without shoes, it is especially disruptive to handicappers, who don't seem to know whether to bump the colt up or cross him off. Fairness to betters is one consideration that racing jurisdictions take into account when making rules.

Handicapping attempts to create a level playing field, but changing shoes, blinkers, jockeys, surfaces, tracks, weather, and tack are just some of the x factors that make horseracing the game that it is.

Sunrise at Meydan Racecourse; the Tapeta artificial track is visible in the distance. (Dan Heap photo)

De Kock has been full of praise for the Tapeta surface at Dubai's grand new Meydan Racecourse. In September he remarked on his website, "The track’s wax-coated mixture of sand, rubber and fibre proved to be markedly kinder to our horses’ legs than the conventional dirt tracks and turf.

"We had to experiment and re-experiment and sometimes we were left confused, but since more horses were returning from the new track in sound condition more often, we remained committed and saw it through. Over time we had things under a measure of control. We haven’t stopped learning, however. This is a gradual process that carries on," he said of the training facilities at Meydan.

"One can never eliminate freak accidents, but there will be a significant reduction in horses breaking down," he continued, referring to training on Tapeta. "Logic holds that horses that stay sound for long periods of time, or in some instances for longer periods of time, are able to exercise more often and hence will reach their required levels of fitness quicker. It follows that even some of the chronically unsound runners will show improvement. A bigger proportion of the Thoroughbred population will extend their careers by an extra racing season, making more stakes earnings possible for owners and trainers."

Thursday's race for Daddy Long Legs, however, will be on the old-fashioned turf.

To learn more:

Take a gait interference quiz.

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