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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Pro-active shoeing: Details on Kentucky Derby winner Justify's bruised hoof preparation for Preakness

horseshoe news from the Kentucky Derby


It should be part of the winner's circle ceremony. If you win the Kentucky Derby, they award you three things: First, a blanket of red roses to drape over your withers. Next, a gorgeous trophy for your owners to hoist in the air. And last but not least, there's a microscope, which you will live under for the next five weeks of your life.

Writer Fran Jurga
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You might not be able to see the microscope, but it's there. And the Derby winner is always in focus.

This year, the microscope was put to use immediately. The roses hadn't even begun to wilt on the morning after the Kentucky Derby when Justify, the spectacular (and undefeated) 2018 winner, emerged from his stall to greet the media.

Background

As the horse crunched his way across the crushed stone lane between the barns, the court of public opinion quickly judged the horse to be lame on his near hind.

Confusion reigned as Baffert shrugged off the sensitive foot as being related to the muddy track on Derby day. Then came a mention of a heel bruise.




The photo above shows trainer Bob Baffert with the media on Sunday morning, May 6, 2018, after he brought Justify out and the colt showed sensitivity in his near hind as he was led about on gravel between the barns at Churchill Downs. He had been shod with a full (normal) aluminum raceplate on the foot for the Kentucky Derby. Farrier Wes Champagne, who shod American Pharoah and many other champions for Bob Baffert, cares for the horse's feet in California.

Whatever the injury was, it didn't bother the colt after Baffert opted to remove the full shoe and continue training with a three-quarter shoe for a week. (The colt had raced with a full shoe on the foot; "three-quartering" a shoe means simple cutting off one heel, usually the inside.) Justify was declared a definite entry in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, the second leg of the Triple Crown--a race that Bob Baffert has won six times before.

 three-quarter shoe worn by Justify
Justify headed to the track to continue training with the heel
removed from his shoe to alleviate a sore heel. (Tom Amoss 
photo, used with permission)
On May 10, Elliott Walden, President/CEO and Racing Manager of WinStar Farm, and a part-owner of Justify, said in a report compiled for Churchill Downs Communications by Kevin Kerstein, "He has dealt with a cracked heel off and on and that is typical of horses. The track was rough Saturday with all the rain. The first time we saw it (the heel) was when he came out for you guys (the media) Sunday. We had to figure out what it was and work on it.”

With the Preakness less than a week away, Baffert decided to re-shoe the foot on Sunday, May 13. The colt would be ready to race before shipping to Baltimore on Wednesday. The shoeing treatment is designed to get the horse through the Preakness on May 19, while acknowledging that that race is merely step 2 in a three-part campaign--and that the rest of his three-year-old career is still ahead of him.

The Kentucky Derby was only the fourth start in Justify's racing career.


• • • • •

On Sunday, May 13, most people were celebrating Mothers Day, but Florida farrier Curtis Burns was on his way to the airport. A longtime adjunct farrier for some of Bob Baffert's special cases, Burns is known for his work with hoof repair, adhesives and his own shoe, the Polyflex urethane shoe, used successfully by racehorses like Curlin, Shackleford and Mucho Macho Man. Shackleford, in fact, won the Preakness wearing Burns's shoes.

Embed from Getty Images

The photo above shows Justify training in the 3/4 hind shoe on May 10, 2018.

Justify, however, was not a candidate for glue-on shoes.

Shoeing for the Preakness

Curtis Burns arrived in Louisville equipped to do some serious work on the colt, but he said he instead found a pretty standard heel injury -- and one that didn't require many of the tools in the hoof repair case he had carried with him.

He said he removed the three-quarter shoe and re-shod both hinds with regular Victory toe-clipped raceplates. The new near hind shoe covered the bruised heel area.  Burns then applied a support wall reinforcement; it does not touch the shoe, and is not nailed. The nailing pattern is forward of the adhesive.

© Curtis Burns Kentucky Derby winner Justify heel quarter floated and hoof wall repair
Farrier Curtis Burns took this cell phone photo of Justify's famous near hind foot after shoeing to avoid pressure on the inside heel.  A Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) adhesive reinforcement was added on the inside wall, and only on the near hind on May 14. The little notch at the bottom of the wall reinforcement indicates the location of the soreness. From that notch back to the point of the heel, the hoof is "floated". PMMA is an industrial adhesive with many medical applications and is commonly used to attach artificial fingernails to nail beds. The trade name for the PMMA used on Justify is "Equilox".  Photo © Curtis Burns.

Curtis answered the obvious question before it was even asked: Why not a bar shoe? "A lot of times, people would use a Z-bar on a heel bruise like this. But, over time and with racing (in the Preakness this weekend), it would distort the foot.

 Burns also said that the shoes for Justify did not have "bends" or turndowns, a shoe modification often used on horses at Churchill Downs, where hind shoe turndowns up to 1/4" are allowed. The full shoes that Justify wore in the Kentucky Derby did not have bends, either.

Bends are not allowed under Pimlico shoeing rules, where the Preakness is run. Burns said that bends or turndowns would have put more pressure on the injured heel quarter.

"This colt has a big campaign ahead of him," he continued. "The least amount of change is best. Sometimes, simpler is better."

With the foot set up as it is, it can be soaked or medicated, if needed. "They can do anything they want with it," Burns said.

© Derek Poupard Z bar horseshoe for heel pain or quarter crack
Example of a Z bar on a horse with a sore inside heel quarter who was being prepared for a season-end race. This is NOT Justify. Thanks to Derek Poupard for this photo.


One thing he did do is very slightly "float" the inside heel where the bruise is located after he applied the Equilox to the wall in the area. He said he inserted a fine hacksaw blade between the shoe and the heel, creating a regional float that is roughly the thickness of a business card, if you were to insert one under the heel.

"It looks really good," he said. For the rest of the day, he watched the colt work 1 1/2 miles on the track, felt the foot, checked everything over, and waited. Finally, after he watched the colt at feeding time, he decided it was safe to head to the airport for the trip home.

© Curtis Burns Kentucky Derby winner Justify


Bob Baffert gave a press briefing after the shoeing, in which he gave a few details about the shoeing, but didn't mention that he had brought in a consulting farrier to do with the work.

Hoof repair in context 

Reinforced hoof walls are seen commonly at the racetrack. Industrial poly(methyl methacrylate) or "PMMA" adhesive is standard. It is used proactively to reinforce hoof walls and attach glue-on shoes; it can also be used to protect a hoof repair procedure, such as a quarter crack repair, or cover a hoof that was damaged by acute injury or that needed partial removal for a condition like white line disease. Damaged hoof walls don't heal back together, but they can be "repaired" with the adhesive so normal wall growth can proceed from the coronary band.

For some applications, colored PMMA is used to blend in with the natural hoof pigment and is rarely noticed. Bell boots are often used to cover the repair.

© Ian McKinlay Big Brown hoof repair
Who could forget Big Brown? His patches had
patches, but he won both the 2008 Kentucky
Derby and the Preakness. Like Justify, the Derby
was his only his fourth career start, but his injury
was much more severe. (Ian McKinlay photo) 
Depending on the severity of the injury and the age or racing/showing class of the animal, horses may be shod with special shoes and adhesives to get them to a big race in their careers, often the Breeders Cup, which comes at the end of the year, or to one of the required qualifying races for it. Hoof treatments are calculated with the racing calendar.

Horses with a serious injury, as we saw with Big Brown in the 2008 Triple Crown, and others since, may receive multiple adjustments or changes of repair materials and shoes over the course of treatment. The goal is to keep the horse comfortable and sound for training, but also to facilitate healing of the injury and minimize distortion of the hoof capsule as it grows. Barn staff will provide daily monitoring and care for the foot, including any topical medications, poultices, wrapping or soaking.

Other times, horses with minor problems are shod and equipped with an eye to a long campaign, particularly when an injury occurs early in the season.

Todd Pletcher trainee Audible, who finished third behind Justify in the Derby, was shown before the race training with wall reinforcements on both the inside and outside walls. Farriers can choose to make the patches superficial, as seen on Justify, or the shoes can be nailed through the material.

Brittle or weak hoof walls are often given as the reason for hoof wall reinforcement. Trainers aren't required to disclose the exact extent of an injury or weakness; they may use subjective or ambiguous terms, particularly when referring to the region known as the "heel".

Hoof repair following white line disease treatment at The Clinic at Oakencroft in New York
Hoof repair materials are not always visible. This
horse's hoof repair was part of a treatment for white
line disease. (© Hoof Blog file photo)
On the same day as the Derby, a horse with wall reinforcements completed the grueling Badminton Horse Trials cross-country phase in England. The same adhesive is also used to attach shoes like the Polyflex to the foot.

Hoof repair history

Adhesives have been used for hoof repair and shoe attachment for decades. German veterinarians and farriers researched adhesive shoe technology 100 years ago. How to create a synthetic, nailable hoof wall repair material and process has kept people up at night for generations.

The first published veterinary article (in English) found on adhesives for hoof wall repair was a 1965 paper from the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "Hoof repair with plastics" by clinicians Jenny, Evans, and Raker acknowledged that self-polymerizing acrylics had been used by that university "for many years". Their paper documented New Bolton Center's use of hard polymer repair material for horn defects, hoof cracks, seedy toe (white line disease), chronic laminitis, hoof deformation, and attachment of shoes.

Jenny's paper was published the year after California farrier Bill Bane patented his adhesive hoof patching process for quarter cracks, which had been used successfully to allow Stanley Dancer's champion trotter Su Mac Lad to continue racing and become the all-time leading money earner in history, for that time.

Bane's patent publication was covered as news by the New York Times. The same or a similar patch was credited with holding champion Thoroughbred Buckpasser's hoof together, helping him win 13 Grade 1 races in his three-year-old campaign in 1966, even though his hoof problems kept him out of the Kentucky Derby that year.

• • • • • 

Should Justify beat a field of fresh horses waiting for him in Baltimore for the Preakness, he will have three weeks to rest and prepare for the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes in New York on June 9. By then, he'll be pretty accustomed to living under a microscope. Once the Belmont is over, it may be months before anyone wonders what's on or under his feet again.



Thanks to Curtis Burns, Bob Baffert and staff, Derek Poupard and many others for assistance with this article.


To read the landmark Jenny article on hoof repair, ask a reference librarian to help you locate:
Jenny, Jacques, L. H. Evans, and C. W. Raker. "Hoof repair with plastics." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 147.12 (1965): 1340-1345.


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Wouterus Verschuur (1812-1874, Dutch) "At the Farrier"
© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is the news service for Hoofcare and Lameness Publishing. Please, no re-use of text or images on other sites or social media without permission--please link instead. (Please ask if you need help.) The Hoof Blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a headlines-link email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). Use the little envelope symbol below to email this article to others. The "translator" tool in the right sidebar will convert this article (roughly) to the language of your choice. To share this article on Facebook and other social media, click on the small symbols below the labels. Be sure to "like" the Hoofcare and Lameness Facebook page and click on "get notifications" under the page's "like" button to keep up with the hoof news on Facebook. Questions or problems with the Hoof Blog? Click here to send an email hoofblog@gmail.com.  


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4 comments:

Joe Eisen said...

Thanks for this instructive and inspirational article, Ms Jurga.

Christine said...

As a farrier, I greatly appreciate the explanation of the shoeing done by farrier Curtis Burns. Hopefully it is understandable by those who are not intimately involved with all things hoof. My hat is off to Mr Burns for reading the foot as well as the horse. I absolutely would not want to be in his boots on this day! Well done!

Christine said...

Thank you for an informative description meant to be understandable to all. As a farrier, my hat is off to Mr Burns for his skills in reading the foot as well as the horse. I absolutely would not want to be in his boots on this day. Well done!

Rhonda Lane said...

Thank you for getting to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding Justify's famous hoof.