Thursday, June 07, 2018

Godolphin's Masar took the barefoot route to Epsom Derby; farriers detail stable's hoof protocol

The old joke goes something like this: A tourist wandering around in New York City sees a tuxedo-clad musician getting out of a cab. He's carrying his instrument. Relieved, the tourist walks up and asks, “Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

Without missing a beat, the musician says, “Practice.” And walks on.

If only horseracing was so simple.

Quite often, the Hoof Blog chronicles what happens when horses have feet that don’t match their potential or their heart. Farriers and veterinarians walk a tightrope between knowing when they can keep horses safely sound and knowing when to recommend a hoof-rehab break for a horse. 

A few months without shoes in a field is the oldest remedy known to horses with hoof problems. They say, “It’s nothing Doctor Green can’t fix.” And they are usually correct.

These days, trainers try to bring Doctor Green to the tracks and training centers, in the form of water treadmills, vibration platforms, swimming pools and solarium lights. But the shoes stay on; they must. Horses walk further on asphalt than they run on the track.

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Today’s story is about a horse who has met Doctor Green even though he has never had any problems, and has raced successfully. But he still benefited from a winter-long break from shoes. Doctor Green, it seems, has a satellite practice in the Middle East: call it Doctor Sand.

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Embed from Getty Images
Masar winning the 2018 Epsom Derby for three-year-old colts on June 2.

Godolphin Racing, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s global racing empire based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, bred and owns the three-year-old Thoroughbred Masar, winner of the 2018 Investec (Epsom) Derby in England. Masar ran uphill to the finish line and won by two lengths, with his ears up.

Masar looked the part, with his textbook-correct conformation. But did he have a hoof-up advantage over his rivals in the grueling mile-and-a-half on the famous hilly racecourse with a sweeping left turn?

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Masar and friends: Farrier Phil Brook, left, says he is "Newmarket born and bred". He has worked for Godolphin in England's horseracing capital as well as in Dubai for 20 years; eight of those included seasonal sessions with Godolphin's Dubai-based farrier, Derek Poupard from South Africa, right. (photo courtesy of Brook and Poupard)

The Epsom Derby is the test where future stallions earn their reputations as classic champions, just as they have at Epsom every June since 1780.

Masar is only three years old, but he’s already earned more frequent flier miles than most people reading this will see in their lifetimes. Bred in Ireland, Masar was first seen by Godolphin’s longtime Newmarket, England farrier Phil Brook at the start of the colt’s two-year-old career last May.

Godolphin had big plans for the colt; they flew him to California to race in the 2018 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf in November.

It wasn’t a memorable trip.

In this video, Godolphin farrier Derek Poupard describes his career working with horses around the world. (Article continues below video)

The end of the 2017 racing season meant that Masar’s next stop was the Godolphin winter training center in Dubai.

Farrier Derek Poupard, who shuttles with the horses between Dubai and England, wanted to get his hands on Masar’s hooves--so he could pull off his shoes. And leave them off. Masar entered Godolphin’s innovative shoes-off hoof management program that Poupard and his farrier colleagues have been using to help some of the stable's top runners for several years.

Blair House, Jungle Cat and Hawkbill all won Group One races in Dubai after going through the shoeless program.

Before the advent of year-round racing, most racehorses went shoeless over the winter, but in the 21st century, when racing is a year-round sport, Godolphin’s program is creating quite a buzz. They ship 20-30 horses to Dubai for the winter months; after arriving, their shoes are pulled. They spend the winter months barefoot, at a desert training center with surfaces designed to accommodate their naked hooves. Everything is done to nurture their feet and build a strong healthy hoof, while they continue to train.

In this short video, Derek Poupard describes his unique international point of view of farriery worldwide, especially when it comes to qualifications and national systems. (Article continues below video)

The warmth of Dubai is a marked contrast to the cold, damp winter in Newmarket. “They like to give them some sun on their backs, too,” Poupard said.

Brook and Poupard are part of a global team that is working on the idea of barefoot breaks for racing horses. In Dubai, Poupard works with another barefoot-savvy racing farrier with a global client list, Declan Cronin from Ireland. William (Billy) Mulqueen in Newmarket is also affiliated with Godolphin and journeys to Dubai, as well.

What improvements can be expected during a one-season break from shoes?

"In the four months (in Dubai), I lose all the nail holes and the feet dry up, as (there is) no moisture retention under the shoe," Poupard said. "The sole and frog callus up and I get natural exfoliation of both, rather then (by using) a knife. The depth and mass of foot is phenomenal after the desert period."

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Front foot, photo taken soon after the 2018 Epsom Derby. The horse had a four-month break from shoes over the winter months. (Photo © Derek Poupard)

But is it really necessary to ship horses all the way to the Middle East to rehab their feet? While a program like this can be undertaken anywhere, the move to an extreme opposite environment plays a big role, Poupard says: "I don’t think I could accomplish as much due to weather conditions (rain, mud) versus dry sand but (the hooves) would still be better barefoot, in my opinion, if we could change the environment, such as the road to track and asphalt around the barn (at the English training center)."

"The key is the barefoot training environment and getting the best results from said environment," he commented. "Barefoot die hards would say "Anywhere, anyplace--the horse will adapt." I know differently; in the racing game, at least, we don’t have much time to hit key races as targets."

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This is Masar's hind foot after Saturday's Epsom Derby (photo © Derek Poupard)

Poupard, who is originally from South Africa, is as international as the horses he shoes. He worked in the United States for several years, where he earned a journeyman certification from the American Farrier’s Association that has served him well; without it, he’d not be qualified to work under Great Britain’s strict Farrier’s Registration Act. Since Britain recognizes the AFA’s journeyman test as having equivalency to their basic diploma test required of apprentices to enter the profession, Derek is able to legally shoe horses under British law.

Derek’s side trip to live in the USA was a valuable one. “My CJF got me my (British) DipWCF...I think it is very important that the AFA certification stays strong and not ensure that American farriers with a CJF are recognized here,” he said.

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Front feet of Epsom Derby winner Masar. Photo courtesy of Derek Poupard.

After the 2017 Breeders Cup, Masar was shod only once in four months, and that was in order to run in a stakes race on Dubai’s Meydan dirt track. He was shod just before the race, similar to the program carried out by Declan Cronin for the Dubai-based Mubtaahij before the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

If barefoot hoofcare is the road less traveled in the mainstream horse world, it is the road untraveled in the stratosphere of Group One racehorses trained by the likes of Godolphin's Charlie Appleby. It's just not done, and yet Godolphin has quietly been doing it for several years.

Masar arrived barefoot back in England this spring, but shoes went on to accommodate the miles of pavement surrounding the stables at Moulton Paddocks. “There would be about two to three kilometers of asphalt just to get to the training track each day,” Poupard said regretfully.

Once back in England, Masar excelled this spring, winning the Craven Stakes at Newmarket in April by nine lengths, followed by a third place finish in the 2000 Guineas in May and culminating with the Epsom Derby win on June 2.

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Horses at the beginning of the Godolphin shoeless season often need more help than Masar did. From left: a recovering foot, a horse with crushed heels and a horse with exfoliating sole. (Photos © Derek Poupard)

Poupard also reported that all the Group One Godolphin horses that raced in England and France last weekend had been barefoot over the winter. “Horses are products of their environment,” he stressed.
“He’s never been laid up,” Derek said of Masar, and Phil agreed. “He’s light on his shoes.”

“A farrier’s dream,” is how Phil Brook described Masar, who was re-shod a few days before each of his races in England this spring.

Phil Brook and Derek Poupard have worked together in Newmarket for eight years, but they have a unique way of shoeing this particular horse. Phil shoes the fronts, and Derek the hinds. When shod, he wears Kerckhaert Extra Sound Kings Plates. Whatever and however they are doing it, it has been successful, so they are not about to change a thing.

“We knew he was as sound as he could be,” they said, referring to Masar’s condition before the Epsom Derby. The ground also suited the horse perfectly that day. “It had a little bit of cut to it,” Phil Brooks said. “He liked that.”

Phil and Derek tend more than 100 horses in training at Moulton Paddocks’ two stable yards--one is for two-year-olds and one for three-year-olds. Another 120 Godolphin racehorses are at a third center, within walking distance.

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Derek Poupard arrived at his workshop one morning to find this sign on his door. Once the horses return to England, they are all shod for racing. (photo courtesy of Derek Poupard)

The 200-year-old Moulton Paddocks has its own gallops, with both grass and all-weather surfaces, plus sand and woodchips. The horses there are trained under the direction of longtime Godolphin conditioner Charlie Appleby, who has been very successful this year in races all over the world, including the 2017 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Godolphin probably sounds like it is bigger and better than other training operations in many ways but it really does have something that other stables in Newmarket do not have. It has a farrier shop. Traditionally, racehorses in Britain are shod in their stalls--often with the farrier, his tools and the horse’s feet all knee deep in straw bedding or wood shavings.

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It’s different at Godolphin. The farriers have a custom-built workshop for fabricating any shoes they need but it also has shoeing bays. The horses are led from their stalls to the shoeing shop when their hooves need attention. They are examined and worked on under good lighting.

What’s next for Masar? He will be aimed at the Irish Derby. Perhaps in the fall, Godolphin might ship him back to Louisville for the Breeders Cup, or to France for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

For now, the shoes will stay on. “I don’t want to put any extra nail holes in those feet,” Poupard said.

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Thanks to Phil Brooks and Derek Poupard for their time and photographs used in this story. Thanks to Godolphin for their videos, and recognizing the roles the farriers played in this success story. Top graphic based on ThĂ©odore GĂ©ricault's painting "1821 Derby at Epsom".

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