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Trainer Bob Baffert chatting with farrier Steve Norman at Churchill Downs 5/14/02
War Emblem's Winning Kentucky Derby Formula Included The Latest Hoofwear From Europe

Lousville, KY Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem looks every bit the classic Derby winner. He ís lean, fit, and fast, all right, like all his predecessors. But only from the ankles up. There was something very different about this racehorse.

War Emblem was the first winner of the Run for the Roses to wear a new brand of racehorse shoe, newly imported to the USA from Holland. Manufactured by the long-established metalworking firm of Kerckhaert Horseshoes Company in Vogelwaarde, Holland, the aluminum shoes look similar to the shoes manufactured in America.

But to the eye and feel of a professional farrier, there is a difference in these shoes. And perhaps, most importantly, there is some difference to the horse. The shoes are shaped more precisely to the natural shape of the Thoroughbred hoof. According to Steve Norman, the man who nailed them onto War Emblemís feet, they have a nail placement that gives plenty of options, sole relief and a slightly wider stock that gives better support. The strength of the shoes practically eliminates spreading or distortion of the shoe.

A number of the horses entered in the Derby wore the new European shoes on either all four feet, or the hind feet only, according to farrier Steve Norman, of Lexington, KY, who has integrated the new shoes quickly into his busy practice.

"Shoeing a horse is old news," said Steve Norman as he prepared to check the horse's shoes before his trip to Baltimore to run in Saturdayís Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. "What I'm looking for is the best shoe for the horse. My goal is to shoe a racehorse twelve times in a row. That means no injuries, and no layups. When I shoe a horse twelve times, I feel like I have really accomplished something. Most horses don't have a chance to prove themselves."

Trying the new shoes on War Emblem wasn't a problem for trainer Bob Baffert, who has a reputation for being independent in his thinking. In Australia last year, New Zealandís Ethereal won the prestigious Melbourne Cup wearing the shoes.

War Emblem's hind foot showing new raceplate with clip

War Emblem's front foot showing new raceplate

"Trainers are accepting the new shoes, which is a little surprising," Norman reported. "I think they are helping to hold the foot together. The added material makes the shoe more stable, maybe. I'd like to do less patching, see fewer layups, and this is one thing to try in that direction."

Norman has been shoeing for 33 years ever since he failed to make weight as a jockey in his native Colorado and looked for a different job to keep him on the racetrack he loved so much. Today, Norman shoes many of Americaís top stakes horses, and is assisted by four helpers. War Emblem was the third Kentucky Derby winner to wear his shoes; he also shod Point Given last year for Baffert when the Horse of the Year ran in the Preakness and Belmont.

"You're only as good as the last shoe you nailed on," Norman smirks, in reference to the fate of farriers whose notoriety was made by horses that pulled shoes on race day or in the starting gate. "I hope they all stay on."

Web site links:
Hoofcare Magazine:
Farrier Product Distribution (USA agents for Kerckhaert horseshoes):
Kerckhaert Horseshoe Company:


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