There will always be an as asterisk next to the name of California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby history records. Yes, California Chrome was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby wearing glue-on shoes. Glue on shoes that weren't glued on, that is.
And that's only part of the story.
And he was shod in California--not in Kentucky. California Chrome received his lucky Derby shoes the day before he left for Churchill Downs.
He was shod by southern California farrier Judd Fisher and his shoes were made right down the freeway in Anaheim by Thoro'bred Racing Plate Company. The shoes didn't even have to leave Orange County to reach California Chrome at the Los Alamitos training center.
In an interview on Monday, Judd was modest about his work on the horse. He has been shoeing for trainer Art Sherman for the past seven or eight years, he said. Sherman, like many other trainers, moved to Los Alamitos when Hollywood Park closed in December.
Judd said that California Chrome's feet were starting to resemble so many of the other flat feet on horses that trained at Hollywood Park, and had slowed down with the change of seasons; he was looking for a solution. In the old days, a shoer would have used a rim pad, but we have many more options today.
The Thoroughbred industry has a laundry list of types of bonded plates available for this purpose. There are plastic-lined plates; the most famous are the bright yellow "No Vibes". Ian McKinlay has lectured about his work to bond the hoof surface of his "Yasha" processed Victory and Thoro'bred raceplates. Most manufacturers offer shoes with heel-to-heel bonding in various materials, while others offer them just in the heel branches.
Judd Fisher knew about all those shoes but he tried something different. He used a glue-on shoe. With nails.
Now, in order to nail on a glue-on and make it look tidy enough for the top three-year-old colt in California, it takes some work. To do it Judd's way, he would have to take a little extra time and drill the material out from each of the nail holes as a personal preference. He didn't choose the easiest way to shoe the horse.
The shoe Judd Fisher wanted to use on California Chrome was called The Sticky Shoe, which is in the classification of shoes called "direct glue". An "indirect" glue-on attaches to the hoof wall, usually with a cuff.
The Sticky Shoe comes in a kit, with the glue. Judd has to buy the whole kit, every time he re-shoes the horse, even though he doesn't need the glue or the gloves. He just likes the results.
"It got him up off his sole," Judd said. That was in December. What happened next is history: The horse hasn't lost a race since he started wearing those shoes.
California Chrome has won five stakes races on three tracks (and lost none) by a total of 26 1/4 lengths since Judd changed the shoes. Two of those races were Grade 1.
There's something about the Sticky Shoe that seems to suit California Chrome, Judd said. "The pad wears differently (from other bonded shoes) and doesn't seem to squish out." He asked Thoro'Bred to sell them to him without the kit, or to drill the holes. No luck.
But maybe that will change now.
Ed Kinney, president of Thoro'Bred Racing Plate Company, has been thrilled with California Chrome's success--and with Judd's unorthodox use of his product. "The material used in the Sticky Shoes is more flexible because it has to take up the shock and movement in order to keep the glue bonded to the hoof," he said on Tuesday.
|California Chrome's shoes were meant to be glued on; the thick gray material normally would be glued to the horse's sole, so that part of the shoe doesn't have nail holes. Judd Fisher chose to do some extra work to transform them into nailable shoes.|
Judd said that he made no changes to California Chrome's shoeing before the Derby, including not adding bends. "It's just a Queen's Plate in front and toe grabs behind," he said.
Judd flew out to Louisville the day before the Derby with his fiance, farrier Leah Clarke, and checked on the horse. They were joined by his mother and stepfather; attending the Derby was a family affair.
And the next thing he knew, Judd Fisher was in the winner's circle.
Judd Fisher is originally from Ririe, Idaho. He found his way to southern California and the racetrack through his uncle, track shoer Robert Treasure. Judd worked with Robert and was able to get his California track license in 2005.
Judd credits his uncle and his friend Curtis Burns, inventor of the Polyflex Glue-on shoe, for helping him in his career. Curtis, who glued Mucho Macho Man to win the Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November, was thrilled for his friend's success with the Derby winner. He said, "I couldn't be prouder of Judd. He covers horses for me out there and sometimes he'll call with a question. And that's the sign of a good farrier, the ones who ask questions, and want to go over what they're doing."
Judd says that he hopes he'll be headed to Baltimore for the Preakness on May 17, although he thought it unlikely that California Chrome will need to re-shod that soon. He said that he hopes the colt will be based in California in the long term.
"He's a California horse," he said. And there's no doubt about that.
Thanks to Ed Kinney, Leah Clarke, Curtis Burns and Ada Gates Patton for their help with this article. Thanks to everyone who has shared this story via social media and the good old-fashioned grapevine.
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