Committee Calls for Ban on Certain Toe Grabs

A special committee on shoeing and hoof care that was formed coming out of the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit held in October 2006 is calling for a ban of toe grabs with a height greater than four millimeters on the front shoes of Thoroughbred racehorses.

The committee began meeting in January to follow through on the Welfare and Safety Summit recommendation to ban certain horseshoes that research has shown to be detrimental to the soundness and safety of racehorses. In recommending a ban of toe grabs greater than four millimeters, the committee is focused on the use of “regular” and “high” (or Quarter Horse) toe grabs, which have a 6.4- and 9.5-millimeter toe grab, respectively.

Research by Dr. Sue Stover of the University of California-Davis has demonstrated that high toe grabs on front shoes make a Thoroughbred 16 times more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury while racing.

The California Horse Racing Board passed a rule prohibiting toe grabs in February 2006 and is scheduled to discuss enforcement of it at its Feb. 22 meeting. On Jan. 23, however, a majority of CHRB members voted against enforcing the regulation.

CHRB vice chairman John Harris, along with commissioners Marie Moretti and William Bianco, voted to support enforcement of the regulation. But chairman Richard Shapiro and commissioners Jerry Moss, John Amerman, and John Andreini voted against it. Their action came after testimony by John Shirreffs, who trains horses for Moss and Shapiro.

Ed Halpern, executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, said trainers opposed the rule’s enforcement.

In a Feb. 21 release from The Jockey Club, which organized the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, Harris said: “We have solid research on this issue, and now it’s time to do something about it. I think that will happen (Feb. 22). That should pay some good dividends for horse welfare. I urge the rest of the country to follow our lead.”

The California rule will be proposed for adoption nationwide at the Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rules Committee meeting in April. The rule states: “Toe grabs with a height greater than four millimeters worn on the front shoes of Thoroughbred horses while racing are prohibited.”

The special committee is chaired by Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Bill Casner. Members of the committee include trainers Richard Mandella and Todd Pletcher; farriers Steve Norman and Mitch Taylor; veterinarians Stover, Rob Gillette and Bob Hunt; mechanical engineer and track surface researcher Dr. Mick Peterson; Harris; and Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron.

The committee on shoeing and hoof care is also calling for tracks to ban the use of all toe grabs on front shoes on synthetic track surfaces such as Polytrack, Cushion Track, and Tapeta. The use of toe grabs, turndowns, caulks, and toe grabs on hind shoes is also under consideration by the committee pending the review of existing research. A request for proposals for further research may be forthcoming.

Committee members are also working on educational materials on shoeing and hoof care, including the use of high-speed cameras and track surface measuring devices developed by Peterson. Graphic displays of the effects of toe grabs on the front legs of racehorses are also in development. The committee’s future agenda includes the potential to develop and offer a model rule requiring certification for farriers licensed to shoe racehorses and extending the toe grab restrictions to American Quarter Horse racing.