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Saturday, October 31, 2015

American Pharoah Wore Custom Heel Plate Horseshoe in Breeders Cup

In an interview today from the Breeders Cup at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, Santa Anita horseshoer Wesley Champagne confirmed that 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah raced today in the Classic wearing his now-trademark heel-plate double-shoe on his injured left front foot.

Wes confirmed that he shod the colt in California earlier this week according to the usual schedule. Both Wes and American Pharoah flew east after the shoeing. American Pharoah walked the shedrow at Keeneland for a few days before training over the track while Wes went to work shoeing the international horses in the quarantine barn, something he has done for many years when the Breeders Cup has been in California.

A lovely farewell portrait of champion American Pharoah by BevoStevo.

"The international trainers know me," he said. But Wes found a lot of work waiting for him in Kentucky. Luckily, his star client was already done. He also shod Hard Aces, trained by John Sadler, who ran against American Pharoah in the Classic.

Before the race, Wes repeated the barn news that we had all been told: that American Pharoah's training was "phenomenal" and "200 percent", but what about his feet?

Wes said that the general tendency in racing is not to make changes when something is working, so the special heel plate shoe designed by Wes for the colt stayed on. He won all three Triple Crown races wearing the plate, and the Haskell, as well.

So, he wore a new one in the Breeders Cup.

California horseshoer Wes Champagne shoes American Pharoah. He also invented the innovative Blacksmith Buddy, an articulated plastic horse limb used in training farriers and veterinarians to work on horses' hooves. The hinged device has a lifelike pull to simulate the feel of a horse's leg when worked on; the hoof can be cut and rasped and a shoe can be glued or nailed on. Replacement hooves can be popped on and off. (Photo from Blacksmith Buddy website)
Wes said that the colt grabbed the plate when he lost to Keen Ice in the Travers at Saratoga, and bent it a bit, so for the Breeders Cup, the plate was fit more tightly to his heels.

Overall, Wes said that he is very pleased with the condition of American Pharoah's hooves. He had been concerned about heel crushing but, over the summer, it became a non-issue. "I thought I was going to have to go to a bigger size of shoe, but it improved," he said. On his other three feet, American Pharoah wears regular raceplates.

Wes and American Pharoah have been together a year now. They met when American Pharoah was scratched from the 2014 Breeders Cup Juvenile, a race many thought he would surely win. A problem in his left front foot prevented him from training or racing until the spring of 2015. When he did return to racing, he responded well to wearing a plate over the back of the injured foot.

Instead of the normal course of welding a piece of plate directly onto a shoe, Wes made a complete second shoe that mirrors the raceplate, and riveted it to the plate. So, the colt technically wears a sandwich of two shoes on his left front, although the joinery is so tight it looks--and works--like one shoe.

He has worn the shoe in every race in 2015, including his three victories in the Triple Crown races and the Haskell Invitational.

Wes is known for his expertise with adhesives, and he did apply glue-ons for two horses who raced in the Breeders Cup.

The passing of the plate

On the ironic side, Wes Champagne said he hadn't run into many other horseshoers while in Kentucky this week, with the important exception of Bluegrass stalwart Steve Norman. As of next week, Steve will take over shoeing American Pharoah, who will not be catching a plane back to California with trainer Bob Baffert. He'll remain in Kentucky, where he will stand at stud for Coolmore.

So, this may be the Hoof Blog's last story on American Pharoah. It's been quite a ride. But, then again, he has made history by becoming the first horse to win the Grand Slam of Horseracing. He was also the first horse to try to do it, by winning the Triple Crown for the first time in more than 35 years and then going on to the Breeders Cup, which began after the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, in 1978.

Could he have done it without the services of a specialist horseshoe engineer? You would have to ask the trainer and owner and the horse himself, but the answer is almost certainly that he owes his historic accomplishments at least partly to the man who crouches under him at the end of every month. Wes Champagne plotted the solutions that would help him make history, again and again, and stayed quietly in the shadows of the big horse, but I know there's a smile on his face tonight.

News flash: Read about American Pharoah's hoof injury and the "Pharoah Plate" with comments by Wes Champagne a special edition of EQUUS Magazine (November 2015); it's on newsstands now.

To learn more:

Background on American Pharoah's injured left foot:
Hoofcare Confidential: American Pharoah’s Subtle Triple Crown Horseshoe by Wes Champagne

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Sue F said...

Retire him before he breaks down. No need to squeeze the last dollar out of him.

Fran Jurga said...

Did you watch? That was exactly the point. He was retired this afternoon. You got your wish, but he made history first by winning the Breeders Cup Classic after winning the Triple Crown, the first horse in history to do it.

Rhonda Lane said...

Great story! (And a great race.) I'd noticed he'd been wearing upside down bell boots when he wasn't about to race. Were those to protect his special shoes because he's bent them before?

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Rhonda, thanks for reading the article! His bell boots were turned upside down? Maybe they were picking out his feet? They're not protecting his shoes, if they are upside-down, are they!

I think if I had a horse as valuable as he is, I'd put bell boots on him, too, whether he had to wear a special shoe or not! I saw that he had them on for shipping, and sometimes for training, and that they had his hooves taped, too, for shipping.

With a normal horse, not the world's #1, if it had on a corrective shoe with any sort of heel detail or a bar, the farrier would probably suggest bell boots to the owner. That said, they only work if they are fit properly to hang low over the heel bulbs. Some will and some won't. But they will all do two things 1) protect the coronet from injury, which is really important, especially if the horse is wearing toe grabs, which these horses do (on the hind feet) and 2) prevent nosy people like me from seeing if the horses have quarter cracks or are wearing glue-on shoes.

See-through bell boots would suit me fine.

Thanks, Rhonda!

Bambi Brusco said...

I think she meant he should have been retired when he was injured. Not bandaged and ran hard for greed.

Bambi Brusco said...

I think she meant he should have been retired when he was injured. Not bandaged and ran hard for greed.

Fran Jurga said...

His hoof injury was not life-threatening, and it was approximately six months (or more) until he raced again. That's a long layoff. When was his foot bandaged to run?

Blushda said...

How was his hoof injured? Was it very painful?