Big Brown, whose owners are hoping will win the Triple Crown after his wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, has developed another quarter crack. They're giving him two days off, then fixing the quarter crack. They plan to run him in the Belmont. Here's a quotation from the referenced article:
"This is a very, very minor crack," hoof specialist Ian McKinlay said, adding the fissure was about five-eighths of an inch long. "We will put a set of wires in and patch it up."
"Ian keeps telling me it's nothing and he'll be fine in a couple of days, that he will be able to fix it up by Thursday," Dutrow said. "I am sure he will be 100 percent, yes. If we get to breeze him Tuesday or Belmont week, or even Wednesday, we can live with that."
Big Brown has had problems with quarter cracks before. In fact, he had to take the month of January off to heal a quarter crack. Here's an excerpt from a Suite 101 report dated two days ago about how Big Brown has been free of quarter cracks since then:
McKinlay treated Big Brown's first quarter crack by lacing the crack together with wire. Curl used the same technique in the colt's second quarter crack, which developed in his left foot. After Big Brown' s first race this season, Curl told Dutrow he thought rubber cushion Yasha glue-on shoes, developed by McKinlay, would work for the colt.
A set of Yasha glue-ons were anchored to Big Brown's feet 21 days before the Kentucky Derby. Dutrow says the colt's feet went cold within 24 hours of the shoe-fitting. Although the Yasha glue-ons are expensive, as much as $550 a pair compared to regular nail-ons at $25 a pair, Big Brown hasn't had any further problems with his feet.
Curl's philosophy is when the feet are right, the rest of the horse does well also.
So now, Big Brown has his third reported quarter crack. Fortunately, my knowledge of quarter cracks is all academic. To refresh my memory, I went on a search. First I went to my out-of-date Illustrated Veterinary Encyclopedia for Horsemen, which gives you a summary of things with pretty good illustrations. It didn't educate me much other than to learn (1) a quarter crack is not a good thing and (2) it must be pretty serious if they're having to wire it together.
What causes quarter cracks? The Suite 101 article says:
Curl notes that quarter cracks are not unique to the Thoroughbred racehorse. Any breed can develop quarter cracks. The causes of quarter cracks range from running on hard surfaces, to concussion, to thin hoof walls, to imbalance of the medial lateral foot.
Big Browns' quarter cracks were atypical, says Curl. A hoof wall separation initiated the cracking. Possibly a bruise on the bottom of the foot prompted the beginning of a separation, Curl explained. This leads to an abscess which can't drain. The abscess pushes infection up the hoof wall. That, in turn, separates the hoof wall (the fingernail) from the laminae (the membrane that is at the core of a laminitis infection).
The separation of the fingernail is difficult to detect since it can't be seen. A horse can run a race, or perform workouts, and cause the infected area to heat up, but if it cools back down, a problem won't be detected. If a problem is susptected, and the horse is suspended from workouts for a short time period, his next work, or breeze can cause the abscess to break out through the top of the hoof.
Ian McKinlay, who is based in New York, and treated Big Brown's first quarter crack, said he sees the condition more frequently in Standardbreds. He believes tracks becoming harder may be a root cause of the trouble. Curl and Dutrow believe that a wall separation developed over time in Big Brown's case because he has always trained on good surfaces.
And another source says:
"A quarter crack is a stress fracture of the hoof wall and it is telling you that the horse has been overworked and needs a rest. But trainers know that these products are available and that they can, if they're used properly, keep a racehorse working. I'd only repair a wall injury if the wall is in such disrepair that it is not weightbearing or if the horse is standing on its sole. Then build the wall up, by all means, so the horse has something to stand on until the foot regrows." From www.hoofcare.com
What does this mean for Big Brown? Amateur speculationist (I made that up) that I am, I can only figure that his owners will do absolutely everything that they can short of killing him to give him a chance to win the Triple Crown. Will running on a quarter crack kill him? Not unless it indicates that the horse is breaking down in other places.
I assume he will get doctored on enough to run, and he might just win again. Then he'll spend his life getting to meet lots of lady horses, and we can only hope he's not passing on genes for more bad Thoroughbred feet.
And if all does not go well in his future public races (after what happened to Eight Belles), as I have said before, the racing industry is handing their future to anti-racing forces. No one will defend them when they become indefensible.
Race sound horses in a safe environment, all will be well. Race unsound horses until they break down in tragedy on national television, you deserve what you get.
UPDATE May 26: The New York Times is running a story on this now, which you can read here.