Trainers Consider Mud Calks for Better Traction

Trainers Consider Mud Calks for Better Traction
Photo: Evan Hammonds
Farrier Chad Boston busy in the Monmouth Park barn area.

The high probability of rain for Breeders' Cup weekend has led trainers to make some decisions on shoeing.

One choice being made by a few conditioners the morning of Oct. 26, when the chances of rain were 100%, was switching their horses' traditional shoes to "mud calks," similar to what cleats do for athletes.

Larry Jones, who will send out Hard Spun in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) and Proud Spell in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), will take advantage of the shoes, as he believes they will provide his horses with more confidence as they move across the track.

"If you can keep the slip away from them and give them the confidence to go ahead and keep running, then that's what you've got to do," Jones said.

Jones' Kentucky-based farriers are brothers Todd and Chad Boston, who have been shoeing horses together for about two decades.

"The shoes give horses a whole lot more traction--they're mainly used on the front feet," said Todd Boston, who learned the art of shoeing from his father. "We're trying to do everything we can to help horses get a hold of the track."

The Boston brothers' other major clients include Francois Parisel who is substituting for suspended trainer Patrick Biancone; Rusty Arnold; Kenny McPeek; and Nick Zito.

While Jones, Parisel, and Zito will definitely use mud calks, the brothers said they weren't sure yet about McPeek and Arnold.

Todd Boston said while some trainers don't believe in switching their horses' shoes because of superstition about change or uncertainty in the effectiveness of the alternative, Zito uses the mud calks at all times on all his horses to stay on the safe side.

"He feels like he always wants that traction in front," Boston said. "A lot of people come Sunday are going to say their horses couldn't a hold of the track, so we're trying to take some of that out of the equation." 

Zito's Breeders' Cup horses include Wanderin Boy in the Dirt Mile, War Pass in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and Commentator in the TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I).

"The track already looks bad right now, and it's only going to get worse," said Boston, who noted while the mud calks may benefit some horses, they might not make a difference for others' ability to grip the track.

Dustin McCuan, who has been shoeing horses since he was 12, is based at Monmouth, where he provides for the various needs of his clients' horses.

"(Mud calks) are the most contingent upon the surface of a sloppy track," said McCuan, who evaluates the shoeing needs of some horses based on their individual conformation.

"The grip of the caulk is at the heel so the front foot doesn't interfere with the back foot, but some (trainers) feel the (mud calks) slow horses down," McCuan said.

One of McCuan's major clients is Steve Asmussen, who has opted not to switch to mud calks from the square-toed queen's plate shoes he normally uses for his horses. Asmussen will send out Kodiak Kowboy and Pyro in the Juvenile, and Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).

"He doesn't care at all about the grip in the front of the shoe," McCuan said.

"You just run them the way you think is right and the way that's best suited for them, and you stay with that," Asmussen said.

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