A customized plate has kept the Triple Crown winner running sound since he came up with a bruise as a 2-year-old.
If you don’t believe that a horseshoe brings good luck, consider the case of American Pharoah and what I like to call his “Pharoah plate.” A shoe with an unusual, customized heel plate not only carried him to his Triple Crown victory this spring—without it, he might not be running at all.
Last fall, after racking up two consecutive wins in September 2014, the promising bay colt stayed in the barn while other top 2-year-olds raced in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November. A left front foot lameness described vaguely as a “deep bruise” had kept American Pharoah out of the race.
With an eye toward prepping his colt for the 2015 racing season, on October 29, 2014, trainer Bob Baffert called in farrier Wes Champagne, who has a reputation as a problem solver. Champagne cares for about 15 of Baffert’s “special needs” horses.
Champagne cut a sheet of thin aluminum alloy to the shape of a shoe with a plate to cover the rear portion of the foot while leaving the leading portion of the sole exposed. The plate protects most of the frog and the bar area of the caudal foot from impact as the horse runs. It differs from a hospital plate, in which a protective full plate goes between the shoe and the ground, in that the aluminum lies between the hoof and the shoe. Champagne had experimented with welding the plate in place but ultimately decided that rivets worked better. Only one shoe is modified. “I’m not one of those who worries about balancing out the two front feet with the exact same shoes,” Champagne says.
American Pharoah has been wearing the modified shoe since October 2014, and it’s staying on, according to Champagne. The colt wore some version of the plate for the first six of his races this year, including the Triple Crown races, and he earned decisive victories in each. “At this point, I’m afraid to take it off,” Baffert told the Daily Racing Form in April, before the Kentucky Derby.
Champagne may adjust the shape of the shoe depending on racing conditions. Sometimes, American Pharoah might wear a more “eggbar” design, in which the rear of the plate extends beyond the edge of the hoof, to provide more support. However, Champagne says, “Racing in the Kentucky Derby with 20 other horses can be rough.”
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