Thursday, November 02, 2017

Breeders Cup: Innovative Copper-Shield Racehorse Shoes Debut Under British Turf Runner Decorated Knight

Kerckhaert horseshoes treated with a copper "shielding" process, along with copper-coated Liberty CU Carrera nails, give British runner Decorated Knight a unique flash as he trains at Del Mar in California for this weekend's Breeders Cup. The process, called Cu Shield Technology, transforms the normal plates. (Ashley Berry photo)

It’s that time of year. The best racehorses in the world have been winging their way to the USA to line up against the best of the home team. The Breeders Cup races, to be held Friday and Saturday at California’s Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, will be the Super Bowl of horseracing.

Once the horses are out on the track, they all look pretty much alike, no matter what countries they call home. Maybe you’ll see a few minor differences in tack, or the way the jockey rides. And as you watch the horses trot by in the post parade, you catch the flash in the sunlight as horse after horse shows you a glimpse of the four silver-y aluminum plates adorning their feet.

Wait a minute. What was that? As one horse trots past, the California sun catches a flash of red copper, instead of silvery aluminum. That was different...what's going on?

The Breeders Cup is about to score another first in its history. A British runner named Decorated Knight, flown in from the hillsides of England's Lambourn training grounds, will be the first horse to race in the Breeders Cup in new copper-plated horseshoes.

As he does it, he’ll pave a new option for a racehorse to run on the healthiest, strongest feet possible.

Every year, The Hoof Blog finds evidence of hoof innovation under the Breeders Cup runners. Many will compete in spite of the challenge of overcoming a quarter crack, a history of laminitis, lingering sole bruises, and the other wear-and-tear effects that a horse's feet feel at the end of a long season. Some of the top farriers in the world are charged with caring for these horses’ hooves. There will no doubt be glue-ons and tab-ons and adhesive-laced hoof walls when the Breeders Cup races begin on Friday.

British runner Decorated Knight 
will race in custom-copper Kerckhaert 
horseshoes in the 2017 Breeders Cup Turf.
But the most interesting new shoes in the 2017 Breeders Cup have been overlooked because the horse wearing them has nothing to hide and no obvious problems to overcome. Decorated Knight, a five-year-old son of Galileo, is just a few strides ahead of his time by wearing copper-plated horseshoes.

Trained by Lambourn's Roger Charlton, Decorated Knight came to the USA last week with the new shoes on and a spare set in his tack trunk. He won the Group One Qipco Irish Champion Stakes in September, defeating Coolmore’s highly regarded Churchill, and he’s heading into the Breeders Cup Turf flying under the media radar at Del Mar. Obviously, no one has seen this horse's shoes yet!

Normally, an announcement about a horse wearing a new style of shoe would focus on the shoe's ability to improve traction, describe how the shoe attaches to the foot, marvel over how little the shoe weight or revel in unusual methods or materials were used to manufacture the shoes. With racing, it is all about how the hoof meets the dirt (or turf) track.

But not this time. This new shoe technology is about what a horseshoe might be able to do to help the hoof of the horses who wears it. And add a little flash in the California sunshine.

Battaash put the Kerckhaert SuperSound Cu raceplate on the world map when the colt wore them when he won the Group One Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp Longines in France last month. Farrier Ashley Berry, shown here, shod the horse for the race. He holds one of the front plates after it was removed. While the copper shielding has worn off the ground surface of the shoe, Ashley says that it can still be seen on the foot surface, where the anti-microbial properties of the copper are needed against the foot. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Berry)

About the shoes
Copper-shield raceplates are a new offering in international racing, and they started from the top. They’ve been seen in Dubai, and last month the speedy British-trained Battaash won the Group One Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp Longines in the undercard on L’Arc de Triomphe day in France. The French racing press took note, and the shoes received their first international racing press publicity. Watch the race:

The first Group One runner in copper-plated horseshoes was Battaash, who easily won the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp Longines in Chantilly on October 1. Battaash and Breeders Cup runner Decorated Knight are both shod by Chapel Forge Farriers.

The shoes themselves were what most of Charlton's horses would wear anyway: Standard Kerckhaert King’s Plate Super Sound raceplates are sold all over the world. But now the "Cu"model has been introduced in some countries: the "Cu Shield" copper coating is added as part of the manufacturing process.

Solid copper alloy horseshoes are a footnote in history; they were largely forgotten until recently. The Inca blacksmiths forged shoes of copper for the Spanish conquistador horses 500 years ago because they had no iron. Copper doesn't create sparks from friction like steel and iron do, so copper shoes were often used on horses and mules who worked in mines. Kawell, a Chilean company, obtained a patent for shoes manufactured from a copper alloy a few years ago.

Not only will Decorated Knight make history by wearing copper-coated horseshoes, he may also be the only horse racing on Saturday who won't technically be wearing raceplates at all on his front feet. While Kerckhaert is now selling Kings Plate SuperSound CU copper-shielded raceplates in Great Britain, Australia, and some other countries, Decorated Knight's farriers asked for one-time customized copper coating on a pair of size 0 Kerckhaert aluminum "Century Support" sport horse shoes, which offer more heel support. As it turned out, Kerckhaert had shielded some shoes on request for a client in Dubai, who shipped the shoes to the manufacturer in Holland, who in turn shipped them to England to be nailed onto the horse now in America. (Photo supplied by Stromsholm)

But it wasn't until this year that the horseshoe and copper coating technology came together for the health of the horse. The antimicrobial properties of copper are well documented. Copper sulphate foot baths have been researched for dairy cattle to prevent digital dermatitis. Copper sulphate is also added by some farriers to hoof packing and wall adhesives to improve hoof health.

"It’s the ground-bearing surface that erodes very quickly," said Ashley Berry. "But the (coating on the) foot-bearing surface is still intact. The horses have good feet,  all my race horses use copper coated nails, which make a big difference--white feet show less blackened nail holes."

Nails came first
For over a year now, Kerckhaert has been touting the benefits of copper-coated horseshoe nails for horses with hoof wall or sole problems. The light coating, known as “CU Shield”, has been praised by many farriers claimed to the coated helped protect hoof capsules from the invasion of bacteria that can weaken the wall or even cause fungal and bacterial infections.

Interest in the copper-coated nails spread around the world. Research underway at a British veterinary school is expected to put numbers behind the antimicrobial effect of the nails on hoof wall strata.

"Copper shield technology for raceplates was the next logical step," said Jenny Mclellan, Stromsholm's marketing manager. "Although shoes don’t penetrate the wall the way a nail does, the larger surface area in contact with the underside of the foot contributes to improving the health and strength of the white line, hoof wall and sole, when used on a regular basis."

Copper-shielded horseshoe nails, sold as Liberty CU nails, are now often utilized in therapeutic shoeing, such as for this foot shod by Welsh farrier Jim Blurton with one of his company's signature heart bar shoes and a thermoplastic hoof pad. Some farriers use them in standard shoeing procedures, especially with aluminum shoes, to reduce oxidation around nails and enthusiastically report improved overall hoof wall quality. (Photo courtesy of Mark Aikens)

Flashy yearlings in Tattersalls Book One
The copper-coated raceplates began as a custom order from Chapel Forge Farriers this summer. Stromsholm has a satellite retail store in Lambourn, the British racehorse training center west of London. They agreed to copper-coat some Kings Plates for the practice to use during the preparation of some prized Lambourn-area yearlings heading to Newmarket for Tattersalls’ “Book One” October sales.

Gary Pickford, founder of Chapel
Forge Farriers in Lambourn, England
The idea of a company creating a customized horseshoe for a client is testimony to the energy in corners of the hoofcare industry where a synergy between manufacturers and farriers is maturing. Not only are farriers testing products for companies, they also realize that need the technological expertise of companies to create new products from high tech materials. This type of cooperation can re-energize the quest to build a better horseshoe.

In addition, Stromsholm, a large retail hub for farrier supplies in Milton Keynes, England, has reversed the idea of "bigger is better" by creating satellite stores in the racing towns of Newmarket and Lambourn. That way, they stay closer in touch with leading farriers, keep an ear to the ground, and respond to both needs and ideas brought through the door by the local racing specialists.

Carl Bettison, AWCF (Hons),
managing director at
Sam Lane photo
Additionally, Stromsholm hosts several seminars and research days throughout England and Wales during the year. "I see Stromsholm as not just a horseshoe supplier, but a hoof care partner," said Carl Bettison, managing director of Stromsholm and also a farrier himself.

"We truly strive to support the farrier and trainer to get the maximum performance from their horses," he continued. "We do not work just with race horses: we also supported Team GB 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Valegro (dressage) and Big Star (showjumping), as well as the military horses that serve and protect Buckingham Palace."

Chapel Forge had been a trail blazer when the copper-coated nails debuted; England is known for its wet climate and farriers work hard to keep horses' feet strong and sound on the soggy ground. The group practice has 20 farriers out in the Lambourn district working almost exclusively on racehorses; it is considered to be the largest group practice of farriers in Europe, if not the world.

Chapel Forge’s founding partner, Gary Pickford, and assistant manager, Ashley Berry, paid attention to how the yearlings’ feet responded to the unique experimental shoes coated for them (above). (Stromsholm photo)

Every year is a good year at a practice that has grown to the status of Chapel Forge Farriers, but 2017 has had an especially warm glow--you could even call it a copper glow. From yearlings at Tattersalls, to a Group One winner in France and now a Breeders Cup contender in North America, the innovation that the Chapel Forge farriers and CU Shield Technology have brought to world racing has made heads turn, ideas blossom, and helped horses grow sounder, healthier feet.

Watch Decorated Knight run in the $4 Million Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf on Saturday, November 4. The race is expected to be run at 7:37 pm (Eastern time) and will be broadcast live on NBC in the United States.

Learn more:
Kerckhaert Cu Copper Shield Technology
Coal Mines and Pit Ponies: Farriers made sparkless horseshoes for safety underground