Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dubai World Cup: Will the Dirt Track Renaissance Affect the Shoeing for the World's Richest Race?

It's early morning in Dubai. Meydan Racecourse is preparing for a big day culminating in the world's very richest race. And the favorite is an American horse.

Normally, there wouldn't be anything unusual about that. The race has been won by American stars like Cigar, Silver Charm and Animal Kingdom. But last year, no American contenders were in the race.

Many people believe California Chrome is the favorite because his feet are used to flying through dirt. The other horses' hooves haven't done it, nor have the horses had dirt kicked in their faces. Could they be right?

After American owners and trainers lost enthusiasm for racing on Meydan's Tapeta track, it was dug up and replaced with good old-fashioned dirt. And the Americans returned.

The same thing has been done in the United States at tracks like Santa Anita and Keeneland. Tradition is strong in racing. It's a game that doesn't like change.

Just look at the shoes. Raceplates have seen improvements in the last 20 years, but they haven't seen many changes. In Dubai, there is a difference, since the track farriers like to shoe the horses with gold Cemtec plates, just for the novelty.

The Hoof Blog checked in with farriers Michael Hunt (Ireland) in the quarantine stable and Rob Stevenson (Australia), who does most of his work at Dubai Equine Hospital. Both will be in the paddock for today's race, which goes off at about 1 p.m., east coast US time. The television broadcast begins at 12:30 pm EDT on Fox Sports 1 (cable only).

Michael has the job of shoeing all the foreign horses that arrive to race in Dubai. if their hooves need attention. When a horse is invited to race in the World Cup, the travel expenses to Dubai are paid, and the horse's shoeing, feed and bedding are provided in the quarantine stable. That also gives Michael a good chance to check out all the shoes coming in from all over the world.

Foreign horses must be treated by veterinarians employed at the Dubai Equine Hospital.

California Chrome has been the celebrity at the track this week, as well as the betting favorite. His experience racing on dirt, as well as his excellent record, have given him a high profile in a lineup of horses who wouldn't be dirt specialists. (Dubai World Cup press photo © Mathea Kelley

Dubai has very strict rules for shoeing, and the horses will be limited to a Queen's plate type shoe in front for the new dirt track. Nothing--including nail heads--can protrude more than 2 millimeters below the shoe.

The hind shoes have more latitude; the new Emirates Racing Association (ERA) Approved Equipment document shows a quarter toe grab, a hind plate with blocked heels, and a Thoro'bred Plain, with a note that Tradition XT (2 mm), Tradition Low Toe (3.5mm) and Tradition Regular Toe (5.5 mm) are allowed. Outer rim shoes aren't allowed.

The rules allow, overall, for 1/4" to protrude from the hind shoe in the form of "toe grabs, turn downs, blocks, calkins and stickers". 

Horses aren't allowed to run barefoot, and if glue-on shoes are to be worn, it is subject to the following conditions:
1. The shoes are fitted to the satisfaction of the ERA Farrier.
2. Notification is given to the Registry Office by declaration time of the intention to use or cease using glue-on shoes.

The only glue-on shoe listed as allowed in the equipment book is the Polyflex shoe.

The rules also state that "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."

British-trained Sideglance is back for his third start in the World Cup. He has finished fourth the past two years. This time trainer Andrew Balding is anticipating the kickback of dirt from hooves in front of Sideglace, and he's equipped the eight-year-old with a facecover that has mesh over the eyes, but no cowls. The equipment book calls this hood a "pacifier".

While the ERA spells out the shoes that are allowed, Michael Hunt says that he ends up re-shoeing a lot of horses because the trainers don't pay attention to the shoeing regulations and horses arrive with illegal shoes on.

Michael Hunt has been spending the week with horses from Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States.

"We have everything from hind shoes with three clips to horses with all four glued on," he reported by email on Wednesday. "I checked in on California Chrome this morning. He is a real star, and looks great."

Rob Stevenson reported, "We are back to some 'old school' dirt shoeing again." He admitted that his lads had become "Chromies".

Right after the World Cup, both Michael Hunt and Rob Stevenson will be part of an entourage from Dubai who will travel to Chengdu China to stage a race meet to promote horseracing there.

With luck, they'll have photos to share later today.

To learn more:

Be sure to read last year's coverage from the Dubai World Cup farriers and watch the video about Rob Stevenson and his gadgets!

Dubai Hoofcare: What--or Who--Was Underneath the Horses in the World's Richest Race?

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