Monday, July 06, 2015

California Chrome’s Newmarket Souvenirs: Aluminum Bar Shoes with HammerHead Nails

California Chrome hoofcare farrier vet interview

Do racehorses have to go through customs and fill out those little declaration forms? If so, reigning Horse of the Year California Chrome had better think twice when he lands in Chicago on Tuesday, should he check off the “nothing to declare” box.

He’d better hope the customs agents don’t look at the bottom of his feet.

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When America’s favorite globe-trotting champion racehorse sets hoof once again on US soil this week, that hoof will be shod with foreign-made goods: English "Third Millennium" bar shoes held on by new-to-market Mustad "HammerHead" racing nails from Sweden, applied to his feet at the end of a three-month train-cation in Newmarket, England.

This therapeutic support system has been under California Chrome for the past two weeks while a soft tissue injury in his right front foot resolved, after a sudden lameness forced him to be withdrawn from the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot two days before the race.

An entire team of farriers, vets, trainers, and stable staff in Newmarket was charmed by the chestnut colt with "chrome" white legs. They felt lucky to know him, and this is their story of how they dealt with the disappointment of what might have been, and how they put their professional knowledge and experience to work to help the horse when he needed it.

Gillon Forsyth lifts hoof of California Chrome
Farrier Gillon Forsyth provided farrier services to California Chrome while the American Horse of the Year, shown here, was training in Newmarket, England for three months in preparation for the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 17. It was a race he'd never run. For Gillon, what seemed like a celebrity shoeing assignment turned into a highly-publicized lameness case. Thomas O'Keeffe, MVB, MRCVS of Rossdales (Veterinary Surgeons) Horses in Training Practice in Newmarket was the veterinarian who cared for California Chrome.

Gillon Forsyth, DipWCF is a South African-born farrier trained in Newmarket through the British system. He now runs a five-man Thoroughbred-specialist shoeing business that includes Rae Guest Racing, the Newmarket training stable where the American colt was based. In a phone interview on July 2, Gillon shared his experience with Chrome, who arrived on April 1 from Dubai, where the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner had finished second in the Dubai World Cup.

“Once the news broke that he was coming to Newmarket, everyone was thrilled,” Gillon recounted. “He arrived and just took everything in his stride. He was looking around, curious. He’s just one of those horses, such an individual.

“And when he turned up, I could see that he had some bruising running through his quarters, not uncommon in white hooves. I alerted Allen (Sherman) because I didn’t want him to come over and see the bruising later. There was no heat or sign of pain.”

California Chrome Third Millennium bar shoe with Mustad HammerHead nails
California Chrome was shod in Newmarket with a heel-friendly aluminum straight bar shoe from the Third Millennium line. Farrier Gillon Forsyth used Mustad's new HammerHead race nails with horizontally-oriented, rectangular nail heads to fill more space in the shoe crease and lower any risk of raised clinches. (photo courtesy of Rae Guest)

California Chrome was going to need new shoes while he was in England, and his trademark made-in-the-USA Thoro’bred Racing Plates weren’t readily available. Gillon said it was much discussed what shoes to put on him, and the choice was the slightly wider plate often used in Newmarket: the Kerckhaert Extra Sound.

“He has really nice, strong feet, all credit to Judd (Fisher),” Gillon remarked, referring to the California horseshoer who had shod the colt throughout his three-year-old career for Sherman Racing. “His feet were in great order, given the time in Dubai and all the travel. There was nothing to be concerned about. Sometimes these international campaigners can have challenging feet to deal with due to change of environment and different surfaces. These gifted athletes put their feet under huge pressure and stresses, and I believe very good horses, moreso.”

Gillon Forsyth wasn’t at the Rae Guest yard when California Chrome went lame, two days before the Ascot race. Instead, he received a phone call from one of his men, who said gravely, “Got a problem. It’s the one horse you don’t want to be lame.”

Bar shoe heel fit on California Chrome
A dangerous shot to take: California Chrome's front feet from behind show how the bar shoes fit under the heel bulbs. The source of lameness was believed to be located somewhere in the outside wall of his right fore. A pair of shoes (versus only one on the affected foot) was put on to keep his feet even. (photo courtesy of Rae Guest)

As reported in media around the world, California Chrome had worked on Sunday, and was fine. On Monday, he was lame in the right fore, with pain reported in the outside heel. By the time Gillon arrived on Monday evening, he said that his "Number Two", George Porter, had removed the plate. “He was just sore around the outside of the foot,” he explained, “with a bit of pulse and heat. I cleaned it up. He has plenty of foot. He was tubbed in Epsom salts (solution) but (an abscess) never materialized. No pus.”

Thomas O'Keeffe, MVB, MRCVS, with the Rossdales (Veterinary Surgeons) Horses in Training division is the regular veterinarian for Rae Guest Racing; he provided care for California Chrome during the lameness period. He said that he and Gillon made twice daily visits to check the horse during the lameness period.

On Tuesday, radiographs were taken; as reported in the press, nothing specific was revealed.

“The pain moved around,” Gillon recalled. “It went from the heel to the toe and back again. It didn’t get better. We tried to draw it out. The outside heel bulb was sensitive; he’d snatch it away. Redness appeared on the outside of the heel. There had been no outwardly trauma, it was internal. The foot was bandaged, and I thought he needed a shoe. It was time. You could just tell he was thinking about (that foot). It had a big bandage, and (a wad of) Animalintex on it.”

California Chrome right front foot after bar shoe applied
California Chrome's right front foot in the new bar shoe.
A conference of all the decision makers convened to decide the next step, which was to apply a pair of straight bar shoes. “There aren’t many aluminum bar shoes to choose from here,” Gillon explained. “This horse is an active walker. His hind feet are nowhere near his fronts, so I wasn’t worried about over-reaching at all. He really strides out.”

Over-reaching--when a hind foot catches a front pastern or steps on the heel of a front shoe--can sometimes dictate how a horse is shod, in terms of heel length and shape and support, and especially in the choice of a bar shoe. A conservative choice is to use a straight bar, rather than the fuller egg bar.

It would be a Third Millennium aluminum bar shoe (“a perfect fit, it just dropped on”, Gillon recalled), with a steel toe insert, and Gillon had a plan for nailing toward the toe, to avoid any pressure in the heel area. Fewer nails and more surface area within the crease of the shoe could be achieved with the new Mustad HammerHead race nails.

HammerHead nail
Gillon admitted he was awkward at first with the big-headed nails, which seem clumsy compared to the fine race nails he normally uses. “The shank is the same,” he noted. ”But the head is elongated (horizontally) and it bites into the section (crease) of the shoe.”

Also, the shoe’s nail holes were not punched, they were drilled, which means that a nail wouldn’t sit as precisely as it might, and raised clinches could be a problem. The HammerHead nails claim to prevent raised clinches.

Newmarket veterinarian Thomas O'Keeffe
Veterinary surgeon Thomas O'Keeffe, MVB, MRCVS, with the Rossdales Horses in Training division is the yard vet for Rae Guest Racing and provided veterinary oversight for California Chrome during his stay in Newmarket. ( photo)

Gillon drove the odd new nails, and held his breath as the stall door opened. One of the most valuable horses in the world was led out. Would he limp out of the box stall or walk out of it?

“He came out a little unsure of himself,” Gillon began. “Then they let him trot and he started flicking his feet out. Yeah, he was really improved. By the following day, he was doing an extended trot.”

Gillon stressed that it meant a lot to him that the lameness did not appear after he had shod the horse. Instead, it appeared right before the horse was due to be shod. He said that Newmarket Thoroughbreds in training, who have to travel on the paved town streets to get from their stables to the training grounds on the heath, need to be shod every three to four weeks. California Chrome’s normal schedule is to be shod every five weeks.

How common are bar shoes on racehorses in training in Newmarket? Not very, according to Tom O'Keeffe. "We don't use bar shoes too often, but in a case like this where he was sensitive in his heel area, (they) worked extremely well. We are lucky in Newmarket to have excellent farriers who give a very individual service to the racehorses here."

Stubbs painting "Gimcrack on the Newmarket Heath"
Can you find California Chrome in this picture? Squint. When America's 2014 champion racehorse galloped on the Newmarket heath in April and May, he connected with a long tradition in Thoroughbred training and care that stretches back to 1605 when King James I discovered the great heath and found it ideal for horseracing. A new sport was officially born. Since then, many of the world's greatest racehorses have galloped over that ground. The vets and farriers and grooms and trainers there must always carry on a tradition that is at once timeless and yet always be slightly ahead of its time. (Painting: "Gimcrack on the Newmarket Heath" by George Stubbs, 1765, hangs in the Jockey Club, Newmarket.)

There’s no doubt that the empty-stall effect must have been considerable when California Chrome left Newmarket on Monday for the long flight home. For Gillon Forsyth and everyone working in the yard, what began as a thrill and a pleasure turned to alarm and concern, then a challenge. It ended well, both for the recovering horse and the team assembled to help him.

At the other end of California Chrome's trip, he will soon be re-united with his normal horseshoer, Judd Fisher of California, after he has gone through quarantine after re-entering the United States.

While Gillon would have loved to have had California Chrome run in and win the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot, he had the consolation of shoeing a horse called Goldream who won the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes during the meet.

Tom O'Keeffe summarized his experience with the horse: "California Chrome has responded extremely positively since his unfortunate setback prior to Royal Ascot and has been moving very well in hand and under tack. It has been an honor to be associated with such a horse, even for this very short period and I would like to wish him and his connections every success for the remainder of the 2015 racing year."

It’s hard to put a value on a support system, whether you’re talking about the always-improving design of shoes and nails to get a horse on the road to healing or the security of access to a group of professionals who are there for you (and your horse) when you need them. But American fans of California Chrome can thank everyone associated with Rae Guest Racing, Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons, and the Forsyth Farrier Group of Newmarket, England, in particular, for looking after California Chrome while he was in England.

Mustad HammerHead horseshoe nail for racehorses
Click to watch a quick video about Mustad's new HammerHead race nails.

Special thanks to Carl Bettison, Curtis Burns, Judd Fisher, and Derek Poupard for special assistance with this article, and of course to Rae Guest, Tom O'Keeffe, and Gillon Forsyth.

To learn more:

California Chrome Wins Kentucky Derby in Judd Fisher's California-Hybrid Horseshoes

Triple Crown Hindsight: California Chrome's Hoof Bulb Injury in Pictures

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