Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Big Brown, the favorite to with the upcoming Belmont Stakes,
has suffered a minor hoof injury.

It was recently announced that Big Brown, who is the favorite to win the upcoming Belmont Stakes and horse racing’s Triple Crown on 7 June in NY, has an injury that has kept him from working out since this past Friday. The injury, which was described as “very minor”, is a quarter crack — a vertical stress fracture in the hoof wall.

Ian McKinlay, a hoof expert with a Canadian company called Tenderhoof Solutions, examined Big Brown’s hoof and described the quarter crack as approximately five-eighths of an inch long on the back of the horse’s left front hoof. A quarter crack begins at the topmost region of the hoof known as the coronary band and works its way down the hoof wall. Because it begins in the nerve-filled base of the horse’s hoof, quarter cracks are very painful, leading to bleeding, pain, infection and instability.

“It’s like if you split your fingernail, and it goes down to the quick,” said Nick Meittinis, a veterinarian based at Pimlico Race Course. “It could get him scratched [from the Belmont]. Quarter cracks are typically very painful to a horse. It’s like you ripped your fingernail off. It hurts like crazy.” Meittinis has not examined Big Brown since this injury occurred.

So far, Big Brown is in no pain and in fact, has been unusually aggressive due to excess energy.

“He’s been as aggressive as I’ve seen him. He’s really been rank in the afternoon,” said trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. Exercise rider Michelle Nevin has been walking Big Brown around the shedrow twice per day for 30 minutes while his hoof heals.

McKinlay, who has been associated with Dutrow and his family for a “long time”, is neither a veterinarian nor a blacksmith. However, he apparently is a genius for fixing foot problems in horses. He treated Touch Gold for a badly torn hoof before the horse won the 1997 Belmont and helped River Keen before that horse won the 1999 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“At this point I don’t think there is any infection,” McKinlay reported. “[This] morning we’ll know for sure. I will say by Wednesday or Thursday he’ll be put together. We’ll put a set of wires in and stitch him up.” McKinlay said the hoof would be treated with a 50/50 mix of iodine and alcohol.

Interestingly, after his debut on September 5th, Big Brown didn’t race again for six months because of problems with his front feet — troubles that were more serious than a quarter crack. In that situation, Big Brown developed “wall separations”; abscesses that extend from the sole to the top of the foot. He then suffered another injury to his inner left front hoof in December.

Perhaps because of his previous foot problems, Big Brown was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby while wearing glue-on “Yasha shoes” in place of the traditional nailed-in metal shoes. Big Brown’s Yasha shoes were replaced with two days before he won the Preakness.

Big Brown has won two of the three races that comprise horse racing’s “Triple Crown”; The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. He is favored to become the 12th Triple Crown Winner in history, and the first in 30 years.

“It scares us when something like this happens, but I’ve got Ian assuring me and it’s going to go down like clockwork,” Dutrow said. “It’s going to be good and he’s still going to run the same race.”


BloodHorse (news, quotes).

Bloomberg News (quotes)

AFP news (quotes).

How to Repair a Quarter Crack [PDF or free HTML].


  1. #1 The Ridger, FCD
    May 26, 2008

    So – he’s totally unsound and yet will retire to stud at huge fees… no wonder the breed is in such bad shape.

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    May 27, 2008

    Not only that, Ridger, the huge fees aren’t even a guarantee of his progeny’s success.

  3. #3 Moses
    May 29, 2008

    I hate this “sport.” These horses are too young.

  4. #4 Diane in Ohio
    June 1, 2008

    Came acrossed this today…”In a move that added the world’s pre-eminent equine athlete to its stable of endorsers Tuesday, Nike signed Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown to a seven-year, $80 million endorsement contract that included a $10 million signing bonus as well as the creation of a signature horseshoe, the Air Brown.” w/ photo

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