A hi-tech horse­shoe will not bring you luck

Fancy footwear may help hu­mans but why at­tempt to im­prove on per­fec­tion? asks Mar­cus Army­tage

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

These ‘rac­ing plates’ have not changed sig­nif­i­cantly since the 1890s

The horse­shoe; it still brings a tear to the eye when a half-ton horse wear­ing one stands on your foot; it is a sym­bol of luck, sub­ject of lore, put on by some­one with whom a trainer of­ten has a closer affin­ity than a jockey, and is worn by ath­letes in some cases more valu­able than foot­ballers.

In the past fort­night, a women’s marathon record has been set and the first, al­beit un­of­fi­cial, sub-two-hour men’s

marathon has been run. Both ath­letes were wear­ing the Nike Zoomx Va­por­fly Next%, footwear de­vel­oped within the past year, named by some­one’s cat walk­ing across his key­board at le

mo­ment cri­tique, likened

to run­ning on tram­po­lines and reck­oned to im­prove meta­bolic ef­fi­ciency by four per cent.

To­mor­row, when the horses tak­ing part in the ninth Qipco Bri­tish Cham­pi­ons Day ar­rive at As­cot, they will bound off their horse­boxes wear­ing shoes, or “rac­ing plates”, made from light­weight alu­minium al­loy held in place by ap­prox­i­mately seven nails.

These shoes have not sig­nif­i­cantly changed since alu­minium be­came com­mer­cially vi­able in the 1890s and be­gan to re­place steel as the go-to footwear for rac­ing.

As an ounce on the foot is reck­oned to equal a pound on the back, the ad­van­tage of the 1 oz alu­minium plate, as op­posed to a 4 oz steel shoe (do not for­get to times it by four when you do the maths). could be seen by even the in­nu­mer­ate train­ers of the time.

I have al­ways thought that, when found, it was im­por­tant to keep a horse­shoe point­ing up­wards so that “the luck doesn’t fall out”. But, it has been pointed out, I am wrong; when did you ever see a horse­shoe point­ing up­wards in her­aldry? And, if it were the case, far­ri­ers who hang their shoes down­ward on a peg would be the un­luck­i­est peo­ple alive.

It was the 10th-cen­tury St Dun­stan, a far­rier be­fore be­com­ing the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, who kicked off su­per­sti­tion sur­round­ing horse­shoes when, ac­cord­ing to le­gend, he nailed a red-hot shoe to the Devil’s foot and re­fused to take it off un­til he agreed never to en­ter a

house­hold with a horse­shoe nailed to the door. Be­fore him, St Eloy had a dif­fi­cult horse to shoe so he cut off its leg, shod it, and put the leg back on. As Dr Si­mon Curtis, a far­rier of 47 years’ stand­ing (or rather bend­ing) and au­thor of the pro­fes­sion’s Bible,

Far­ri­ery: Foal to

Race­horse, points out, this is a tech­nique which has been lost in time.

The main ad­vances in a race­horse’s footwear, ac­cord­ing to Curtis, are that the modern alu­minium al­loy – which is used for plane parts – has be­come stronger, so that in­stead of be­ing put on the day be­fore a race and taken off the day af­ter, they are left on be­tween races.

The other big change is that most shoes are bought fac­tory-made off the peg by far­ri­ers rather than cut from lengths, heated in a forge and bashed out on an anvil.

“It is a bit like buy­ing a suit from M&S,” says Curtis. “For the most part, it does well and is very good but if you want the very best you have to go to Sav­ile Row.”

Of course, it is not that no one has tried to bring a bit of modern tech­nol­ogy to the horse­shoe. With the help of Wil­liams F1, Howard Spooner, an en­tre­pre­neur from Marl­bor­ough, de­vel­oped a tele­met­ric de­vice to fit in a shoe which can re­lay all sorts of in­ter­est­ing data, in­clud­ing stride pat­tern and length, speed and any asym­me­try to a trainer’s phone.

He touted it to a few yards but hit a brick wall. Train­ers still like to use their eye and with £1 mil­lion needed to take the de­vel­op­ment for­ward, he patented it and parked it up in the hope that some day some­one may take it on.

Of course, there are two views you can take of that.

Spooner would tell you rac­ing is not tech-savvy enough, the other is that in plat­ing a horse’s hoof for rac­ing there is only so much you can do and, apart from small re­fine­ments, the far­ri­ers at the end of the 19th cen­tury had the shoe’s de­sign al­most per­fect to start with.

Ei­ther way, no one is go­ing to be hang­ing a pair of Nike’s Zoomx Va­por­fly Next%s on the porch to ward off evil any time soon.

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