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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Shoeing for the Roses: De Kock's Shoe-Shy Mubtaahij Thrives on Artificial Surface ​Training ​and Barefoot Hoofcare

Not every horse's journey to the Kentucky Derby​ left a trail of classic hoofprints in the dirt. One horse's prints probably show a distinct frog, the imprint of his sole...and no sign of a shoe.

That's because Mubtaahij​​, the highly-regarded invader from Dubai, is a little different.

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South African trainer ​Mike de Kock is known for bringing his colts to the world's top races with an eclectic plan for optimal condition and speed to peak on the day of the race.

And his training uses horseshoes differently, as well.

​When it uses them at all.​

Mubtaahij (pronounced "Moob-tah-HEEJ", which is Arabic for feeling elated) was foaled in Ireland and raised in France. He's owned by a sheikh from the United Arab Emirates, his trainer is from South Africa, his jockey is from Belgium, and his farrier team is based in the USA.

Mubtaahij won the UAE Derby in late March by eight lengths.

A late foal, the son of Dubawi only turned three this week. He was sold at ​the ​Deauville, France yearling sale​​ and is now owned by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, a cousin of famed racehorse owner and endurance competitor (and the current ruler of Dubai) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In five starts on dirt, Mubtaahij has had four wins and one second, with earnings of $1,461,332. His greatest victory was an eight-length romp last month in the UAE Derby for three year olds in the undercard of the Dubai World Cup. He was unplaced in his early efforts on turf.

Declan Cronin, the colt's farrier in Dubai, took this photo of Mubtaahij''s left front foot two weeks after the UAE Derby. The shoes were on the horse for the day of the race only; you can see the nail holes in the outside wall. The hooves are trimmed approximately every three weeks but they are scrubbed clean and disinfected daily. (HoofSolutions photo)

Mubtaahij trains barefoot in Dubai, where his hooves were cared for by Irish farrier Declan Cronin according to the HoofSolutions regimen, which calls for regularly scheduled trimming and maintenance, along with twice-daily picking, brushing, cleaning and disinfection of hooves with a proprietary anti-microbial Sole Spray.

Pat Burton of Burleson, Texas shod 
Mubtaahij in front on Wednesday night.
(Janelle Burton photo)
HoofSolutions’ preventative maintenance program is balanced with the trainer’s role in stimulating hoof circulation by conducting consistent workouts on proper footing and providing a clean, dry and well maintained stabl​e environment. Nutritional monitoring to insure minimal requirements and the addition of any needed vitamins or minerals fills out the program.

When Mubtaahij arrived in the United States, he did not ship directly to Churchill Downs. Instead, he went to Arlington International Racecourse outside Chicago, where he trained, still without shoes, under quarantine restrictions. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Arlington has a Polytrack surface.

On Monday, the colt shipped to Churchill Downs, amidst much fanfare.

Eric Barthelmess, CJF, from Montana and Pat Burton, CJF, from Texas will be handling the colt’s hoofcare needs this week in Louisville, according to Burton. Eric has worked in South Africa, Dubai and Newmarket, England alongside Cronin.

They are also tending to the needs of de Kock’s Umgiyo, who is entered in the Woodford Reserve Turf on Derby Day. “Unless plans change, of course, they are usually shod the morning of the race,” Pat said.

In this short video, you can observe Mubtaahij's groom in Dubai going through the daily cleaning process on one of the colt's hind hooves. After scrubbing the sole and frog, the groom sprays the foot with an anti-microbial liquid.

What’s interesting is that​, back in Dubai,​ Declan has been removing the colt’s shoes right after a race, cleaning them off, putting them in a box, and tucking them away. He will then nail the same shoes back on for the next race, assuming they are useable. The lightly-used shoes traveled to America with the colt.

Wednesday night, Pat Burton shod the colt in front with his race-worn Thoro’Bred Low Toe (or Wide Web Low Toe) Thoro'Bred plates; he'll be shod with his Thoro'Bred Blocked Heel hind plates later in the week. According to Burton, the change in plans was related to the moisture and surface variances at Arlington and Churchill Downs. Normally shoes would not be applied until the day of the race.

Burton said that he would pull the horse's shoes sometime after the race on Saturday or Sunday.

View image |
Jockey Christophe Soumillon will ride Mubtaahij in the Kentucky Derby. After winning the UAE Derby, he waved the South African flag in honor of trainer Mike de Kock.​

Science behind the system​

The HoofSolutions / de Kock hoofcare program is being studied by Debra Taylor, DVM, ​MS, ​DACVIM​-LA​ of Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine​ in Alabama​. “(Dr. Taylor) has been over to Dubai in the last six weeks and to South Africa last year to record data on a group of horses in training. Mubtaahij was not in the study but his hoofcare protocol is the same as those horses in the study,” Pat said.

“Evaluation of the effect of a barefoot, high-mileage training regime on foot morphology, bone density and locomotion in Thoroughbred racehorses” is the title of Dr. Taylor’s project, which collected MRI, radiographic, morphological measurements, hoof mold and photographic data from Thoroughbred racehorses training barefoot on artificial racing surfaces in Dubai and South Africa.

The Hoof Blog has written extensively about trainers who experiment with shoeless training or racing on artificial surfaces. De Kock appears to be going beyond experimenting to develop a targeted program that uses shoelessness and optimal hoof health in combination with the kinder surface to prepare horses for racing.

It’s hard to argue with his worldwide success.

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