Big Brown Set For Patch On Ailing Hoof

NEW YORK (AP) - Big Brown has an appointment with his manicurist Friday afternoon.

The bay colt is set for some last minute patch-up work, the day before he races in the Belmont Stakes for a shot at winning the first Triple Crown in 30 years.

Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. wants to shield the heavily favored Big Brown from the media horde that has been packing the barn. He decided to wait until later in the day to have the patch applied to Big Brown's cracked left front hoof.

"He won't make one move," Dutrow said. "He's very, very nice to work on. Some horses, you've got to wait until they settle in, maybe tranquilize them. They're moving around a lot. That takes more time. Not with Big Brown because he's so cool."

Big Brown has been the picture of cool this Triple Crown season. He loves to strike a pose for the cameras and saved his best performances for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The only thing that has tried to slow down Dutrow's colt is the quarter crack in his left front hoof.

The injury is having about as much luck at stopping Big Brown as the competition. Several veterinarians characterized the quarter crack as innocuous and said racing in Saturday's grueling 1½-mile Belmont shouldn't pose an additional risk to the strapping bay colt.

That's exactly what Team Big Brown wanted to hear.

"I think I'm ready to make history," jockey Kent Desormeaux said.

Up first, a visit from hoof specialist Ian McKinlay.

On Friday, McKinlay will apply an acrylic and fiberglass patch to the cracked area. It sets in five minutes and is "stronger than the hoof itself," he said.

McKinlay already put a set of steel wires inside the crack and stitched it up. Before applying the patch, McKinlay will remove the sutures, clean the area, redrill holes and put in new sutures. If necessary, he will insert a drain.

Dutrow said patching Big Brown should take about 45 minutes.

A quarter crack is a vertical crack in the hoof wall between the toe and heel, usually extending into the coronary band, where the hoof meets the skin of the leg. Healing time can range from a few days to a few months, depending on the severity of the crack.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, a veterinarian with Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., said the cracks are common in race horses because they quickly wear out their shoes and their hoofs need trimming more often than an average horse.

A show horse might need a new pair of shoes every six to eight weeks, while a competitive horse could run through a pair in about a month.

"The hooves tend to be a little shorter than what the average horse would have," Bramlage said. "That increases the load on the heels. They don't get the opportunity to keep ahead of the hoof growth like a show horse."

Bramlage said a colt typically doesn't even know anything is wrong with the hoof when there's a quarter crack.

"Hopefully this will be something we all talk about now and by Sunday we're taking about the Triple Crown," he said.

Big Brown has had far more serious front-foot issues. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner had an abscess in the sole of his left front foot that caused a wall separation late last year. He was out for 45 days. The same injury struck his right foot in January and the colt was out another 45 days.

"This is nothing new to us," Dutrow said.

The latest crack forced Big Brown out of three days of training,
but the colt has otherwise pulled through like a champ.

"The one that he has is very small," said Dr. Anthony Verderosa, Belmont's track veterinarian. "He's had two previous quarter cracks that were much bigger. It's been addressed. They sewed it up and the inflammation was out of the foot in 24 hours."

In the end, whether Big Brown races isn't up to Dutrow and the colt's owners. Verderosa said the entire field is examined daily in a secure barn by New York Racing Association vets.

Desormeaux said he won the Super Derby aboard Soul of the Matter and that horse had a quarter crack.

"No worries," Desormeaux said.

They'll know for sure by Saturday night.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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