Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Shoeing for the Roses: Girvin's Kentucky Derby Quarter Crack and New Horseshoe Details

Photos and text © Fran Jurga and Dr. Raul Bras

Note: This story was updated to reflect the latest changes made on May 3.

There can be speed bumps on the road to the Kentucky Derby. There can be detours. And there can be road blocks.

The trick is being able to tell which one you're facing when a problem threatens to disrupt your colt's chances to run for glory on the first Saturday in May.

Sometimes a little detour can actually pay off, and one of this year's runners is out to prove that it pays off to take the scenic route.

That's what the connections of a talented three-year-old Thoroughbred preparing for Saturday's Kentucky Derby are hoping. Louisiana Derby winner Girvin, trained by Joe Sharp and topping the qualification list with 150 earned points, was nowhere to be found this week on the backside of Churchill Downs in Louisville, where the race will be run.

His detour was to Lexington, where he has remained in Sharp's barn at Keeneland Racecourse. And while he's been there, he's seen some local sights, including a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, an equine-athletes-only swimming pool, and the inside of one of the world's premier equine hospitals.

But when Girvin stopped by the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington last Tuesday, he didn't check into any of the medical or surgical facilities. The van went right by those buildings and continued to the rear of the hospital campus. He ambled into the podiatry clinic for treatment of a foot problem.

Girvin was suffering from a quarter crack on the medial (inside) wall of his right front foot. The quarter crack had previously been treated and patched but needed attention, re-patching and a new shoe to facilitate continued training. At this stage, the old patch had been removed and the crack was cleaned. (Photo © Raul Bras)

By the time he was led out later that day, consensus was that he would be "back on track" for the Run for the Roses. After he completed an impressive workout the following Saturday on Keeneland's dirt track, the word was out: he'll be good to go. Veteran jockey Mike Smith will ride Girvin in the Derby.
Raul Bras, DVM, CJF, APF of Rood and
Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, 

But between the stop at Rood and Riddle on Tuesday and the workout on Saturday, rumors flew and conjecture was high--and still is--that the colt's mysteriously "missing in action" pre-Derby routine was suspect. This much is true: Girvin did take the scenic route to the Derby, and he's made some new friends while on his little detour.

Some would even say he took the high road, and this article spells out why that may be the case.

Among his new friends is Rood and Riddle equine podiatry veterinarian Raul Bras, who has shared the intimate details of the colt's time with him at the clinic last week. Dr. Bras also shared his impressions of Girvin's hoof's condition this week, and the plans for his shoeing for the race.

But above all else, Dr. Bras commented on how well prepared the colt was, and how trainer Sharp and the colt's owner, Brad Grady, were in agreement with the veterinarian that the horse's welfare came first. They would do what was best for the horse. 

But after Saturday's workout, there were smiles all around. 

Girvin winning the Louisiana Derby earlier this spring while wearing a z-bar shoe for a quarter crack. (Thanks to Getty Images for this photo.)

The first comment Raul Bras made was how awkward it felt to have such a spotlight on him. "I have always tried to stay under the radar during my career," he shared. "I always give all the credit to the horse to be able to overcome adversity." In the next breath, he was downplaying the adversity of Girvin's condition and expressed confidence that the horse would be fine on Saturday.

Social media and public opinion are not always kind when horses develop foot problems. In spite of all the success of horses like Big Brown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness), Buckpasser (15 Grade 1 wins), Kinsale King (Dubai Golden Shaheen) and many others, the flip side is that quarter cracks can force the decision to scratch a horse from the Kentucky Derby (AP Indy, Quality Road).

Tuesday April 28: Right front quarter crack patch and new bar shoe

When Girvin arrived at Rood and Riddle, his previous patch needed attention. The hoof is a dynamic structure and feet undergoing crack repair often need adjustment, re-shoeing or replacement of patches as part of an ongoing maintenance to help the hoof grow down normally from the coronet. Quarter crack recovery is a process with many steps along the way to a healthy new hoof wall.

Quarter crack repair is a common procedure at Rood & Riddle, but even the vets and farriers there are acutely aware of what is riding on their work when the calendar is so close to the biggest race of the year. “They are definitely going to do what is best for the horse,” Dr. Bras said, referring to the trainer and owner.

So he went to work to do his part of what would be best for Girvin, too.

Quarter crack repair patch on Girvin for Kentucky Derby
Girvin's finished patch extends from the toe quarter to the heel bulbs and was applied before the shoe. The patch is made of CobraSox, an extremely tough high-tech poly fiber cloth that is impregnated with polymethyl methacrylate adhesive (PMMA or trade name: Equilox). The patch is notched out over the crack area. Dr Bras inserted a drain in that spot under the patch for easy medication when and if any antimicrobial treatment is needed. The crack is easily accessible for observation. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Raul Bras)

Hoof repair: quarter crack patch

"He had a little crack that had been pinched," Dr. Bras explained. He examined the foot and decided that the procedure would begin with a thorough soaking. Then an antibiotic was delivered via regional limb perfusion--or "direct delivery" to the foot, rather than a systemic injection. 

CobraSox high-tech fabric patched quarter crack on Girvin
CobraSox comes in tubes (bottom)
which are impregnated with adhesive.
A patch can sometimes pinch the tender area under the hairline at the hoof head and, in Girvin's case, the crack had a small area of tissue protruding from the crack that needed precautionary medication. "The foot was perfused with antibiotics to prevent an infection from the exposed sensitivity tissue, which seemed to have a mild superficial bacteria infection," Dr Bras shared.

The next step was to design a patch for the crack that would stabilize the hoof wall. Several different types of high-tech polyester "fabric" are used in the hoof wall repair process, often with different results or purposes woven into the fabrics relative strength and dimensional flexion.

Some of the fabrics used include Kevlar®, Poly/Vectran®, Spectra®, Vectran and the oddly-named but popular "CobraSox". The materials have different abrasion resistances, strengths, resistance to compression and tension, impact resistance, and bonding properties. Choosing and using them is a science in itself.

CobraSox is a biaxial braided fiber tube comprised of Dupont's Kevlar® and carbon fiber. The material is impregnated with Equilox, a polymethyl methacrylate adhesive (PMMA) that is widely used for equine podiatry applications.

Training shoe with frog plate for Girvin's quarter crack
Girvin is wearing a Victory Elite sport shoe shoe made of aluminum with a partial frog plate to relieve weightbearing, The area under and behind the quarter crack is "floated" to avoid pressure in that area. This shoe will be replaced with Polyflex glue-on plastic running shoes on Saturday before the race. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Raul Bras)
The patch was altered with a notch in the area over the crack, and a drain was inserted under the crack, although it is not visible in photos. The crack can be flushed out with an antimicrobial solution and the area that had been pinched before can be observed throughout the week.

Girvin's modified frog plate bar shoe

For a shoe, Bras chose a flat but wider aluminum shoe often worn by competition sport horses called a Victory Elite, made by the Victory Racing Plate Company in Maryland. He riveted a modified frog plate into the shoe and "floated" the area under the crack and unloaded the section of the frog nearest the crack.

"(This) flat, wider-web shoe provides more support than a race shoe," Bras said.

The lightweight bar shoe is adhered to the foot by the indirect glue process by attaching it to a fiberglas fabric cuff that is part of the Sigafoos shoeing system manufactured by Sound Horse Technologies of Pennsylvania.

Girvin bar shoe by Raul Bras builds in float and weightbearing
This photo shows the "float" built into the shoe. This is hard to see with the horse standing on the shoe, but you can clearly see how the shoe was built to leave an air space between the shoe and the area under the crack, The frog plate is a little thicker than we'd normally see because it is redistributing weight, not protecting an abscessed area or sore heel as is often the case with a simple heel plate like the one worn by American Pharoah. (Photo © Dr. Raul Bras)

"We left the other (left front) foot as it is, in a z bar, since the quarter crack (on that foot) is almost grown half way down and (is) not having any problems," Dr. Gras reported. The left front was shod by Girvin's previous farrier. With that, Girvin was headed back to Keeneland.

Shackleford's glue on horseshoes for 2011 Travers Stakes
Shackleford won the 2011 Preakness Stakes wearing Polyflex glue-on shoes. The white area on his hoof wall is adhesive reinforcement. This is what his feet looked like before he ran in the Travers Stakes that year. (Sarah K. Andrew photo, used with permission)

Four days later, Girvin trained at Keeneland, with lots of smiles on the faces of his team. He was ridden by retired jockey Rosie Napravnik, wife of the colt's trainer, Joe Sharp. Dr. Bras checked the horse on Monday, and was very pleased with what he saw and felt on the foot.  "I was worried about that little bit of granulation tissue but his work on Saturday showed us that he is okay."

The plan for Girvin calls for his hind feet to be re-shod later this week; he is now in residence at Churchill Downs. 

Wednesday, May 3 UPDATE: 

Girvin's two front mismatched front bar shoes were replaced by Dr Bras on Wednesday afternoon; the colt had been scheduled to continue to wear the bar shoes until Saturday morning. The two mismatched bar shoes were replaced with open-heeled Polyflex polyurethane glue-on shoes, which have been worn in victories by many champions including Curlin, Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford.

The colt's plan always called for the Polyflex shoes.

hind hoof repair Kentucky Derby favorite
This repaired right hind foot belonged to a horse that was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby a few years ago. No one ever mentioned his feet. (Jessica Chapel photo, Hoof Blog archives)

“The timing on this crack was not ideal,” Dr Bras summarized. “But I wouldn’t jeopardize this horse. He is really high quality.”

Dr. Bras made the decision to change to the Polyflex shoes after seeing the effect that the bar shoe had had on the right front foot, which suffered from a sheared (jammed/shunted) inside heel bulb as well as the crack; the two conditions often are seen together. "The floated area allowed the sheared heel/wall to settle and it was starting to touch the shoe. We were concerned that it could cause pressure," Dr. Bras reported Wednesday.

"We did our it's up to him," he continued. "Feet are dynamic and when the situation evolves, we have to evolve with it."

Dr. Bras said he left the week-old quarter crack patch on the right front alone, just as it appears in the photos with this story. But he added a small patch on the left front, which was growing out an old quarter crack; it had been shod with a z-bar until today. "As a reinforcement," Bras added, "since he had had (the relief of) the z-bar and now (both heels on that foot are) loaded with the Polyflex."

Both front feet are shod with full open-heel Polyflex shoes.

These are examples of some of the actual Polyflex glue-on shoes worn by Mucho Macho Man and Curlin during their careers. Girvin's are very similar. The shoes are polyurethane encasing a steel wire spine; there is also a wear plate at the toe. Traces of the adhesive is still visible. (Fran Jurga photo, Hoof Blog archives)

Girvin's not alone

Girvin's foot probably made news because it's a wide-open Kentucky Derby this year. Someone noticed he was wearing a z-bar. Between now and Saturday details about many of the horses will be disclosed and analyzed.

Girvin isn’t the only horse with foot problems running in the Derby. Classic Empire has had shifts in his career because of foot problems, and other horses have just arrived in Kentucky this week. Many horses race with foot problems “under the radar” without anyone knowing about their patches and adhesive and floating heels because few people bother to look down at their feet--and because farriers are very good at camouflaging the repair.

Trainer Joe Sharp at Churchill Downs today. Getty Images photo.

American Pharoah ran with a heel plate in his shoe. Arrogate won in Dubai with a three-quarter shoe. When Girvin runs on Saturday, he and possibly others will have on normal-looking but special-functioning polyurethane shoes, glued-on aluminum raceplates and possibly other innovations we don't even know about yet.
Consultant farriers and equine podiatrist veterinarians will be quietly waiting behind the scenes, keeping an eye on their clients' horses’ feet. It is the Kentucky Derby, after all. And that’s what they do, every day of the year.
Hoofcare and Lameness thanks Dr. Raul Bras for his assistance with this article and for his thorough treatment of Girvin's foot. Congratulations to everyone connected with this colt for their attention to detail and concern for his best interests in the decision to run on Saturday.
Hoof Blog owner Fran Jurga also provides freelance writing services, especially for horse racing and equestrian sports, as well her specialty of equine lameness and foot care. What can she write for you? Email Fran to discuss your project.

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