By Christy West
Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), clearly owns some of the Thoroughbred industry's fastest feet. But many question their soundness, fueled by reports of layoffs, quarter cracks, and special shoes.
His current farriers Tom Curl and Ian McKinlay have provided the real story on his feet, special pads, and how he went from stall rest to the Roses in just eight months.
According to Curl, Concussion—pure impact on the feet (particularly the heels) from Big Brown's ground-covering stride—caused his past problems. "Now he's got great-looking feet. He's moving, and when you move as big as this horse, he's hitting the ground big-time,” he said.
McKinlay first saw Big Brown last October, when an apparent quarter crack threatened his left front foot. "About four days later, (an abscess) erupted out the hairline, so I knew it was a wall separation," he recalled. Those start at the ground (often from a sole bruise), get infected, and go up in the foot, rather than a quarter crack starting high and coming down.
"It took us about 45 days to get that straightened out," he continued. "Luckily, Rick (Dutrow) said, 'Just take your time and do it right.' But I think when we laid him off, the other one was brewing. Soon as he went back into training, the other foot popped."
Enter Curl, the southern member of this New York/Florida team, who worked on the right front foot starting Dec. 30 at Palm Meadows training center. "It was heavily infected, so I knew it was a wall separation," he said.
After a month's rest, a patch, and three weeks of training, Big Brown won at Gulfstream in nail-on plates. "After that, I said to Rick, 'We need to glue the Yashas on him… If he gets one more crack like this, you won't get where you think you're going,' " recalled Curl. Shortly thereafter, Big Brown won the Florida Derby (gr. I) handily in his first set of glued Yashas, then the Kentucky Derby in his second pair.
"There was no intention of going to the (Kentucky) Derby after the January layoff, but he came back so strong," said McKinlay. Now, Curl says, "We're not even seeing a glimpse of his past problems."
What's a Yasha?
The Yasha is a two-part rim pad system developed by McKinlay, including a hard red pad around the front edge of the foot and a softer black pad around the inner edge of the shoe and in the heels. These "sneakers" are bonded to glue-on or nail-on shoes.
"They just need cushion in the heels, as most lameness comes from the rear of the foot," said McKinlay, who has also had success with Yashas in Standardbreds and non-racehorses. "The whole idea is prevention more than antidote."
Going Into the Preakness
On May 15, McKinlay trimmed and reset Big Brown's front feet with new glued Yashas, noting that his feet are "just perfect. The left patch has completely grown out and the right only had about an inch left. He's not got a bad hoof wall at all."
"It was so good to work on Big Brown; he's so easy and cooperative," Curl commented. "Great horses have great minds."
And hopefully, great feet.