A hi-tech horseshoe will not bring you luck
Fancy footwear may help humans but why attempt to improve on perfection? asks Marcus Armytage
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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