There was more good news from the Big Brown camp last week. His hoof problem on the mend, Big Brown returned to training at Belmont Park...
OCEANPORT, N.J. — There was more good news from the Big Brown camp last week. His hoof problem on the mend, Big Brown returned to training at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. All signs indicate the colt is on track to make Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, which probably means Ian McKinlay has done his job well.
Many view McKinlay, 50, as racing’s foremost foot specialist, the person to call when a horse develops a hoof problem. In Big Brown’s case, after winning the May 17 Preakness Stakes, he developed a crack about three-quarters of an inch long in his left-front hoof. That kind of injury can be painful and keep a horse from exerting itself in a race.
Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who is seeking to become the 12th horse to capture the Triple Crown, has had various foot problems throughout his career, which has made McKinlay a vital part of his team.
Rick Dutrow Jr. trains Big Brown, who has won all five of his races.
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“The Big Brown people are in good hands,” said trainer David Hofmans, who called on McKinlay after Touch Gold suffered a wound to a front foot when stumbling at the start of the 1997 Preakness. With McKinlay’s help, Touch Gold was patched up and won the Belmont, spoiling Silver Charm’s Triple Crown bid.
“Ian kept Touch Gold going,” Hofmans recalled. “He allowed me to train the horse the way I needed to get to the Belmont. He was most important in allowing me to win the Belmont. I could not have won the race without him.”
McKinlay grew up in Canada, where his father, Jim, was a farmer who trained Standardbreds on the side, racing them at Windsor Raceway in Ontario. The elder McKinlay was dissatisfied with the hoof care his horses were receiving from local blacksmiths and figured he could do a better job than the experts. Along with a friend, a dentist named Harold Feagin, he began to study hoof care, and the two devised many of the methods of treatment still in use.
That includes using wire sutures that function much like stitches and draw a crack together, which has been the primary course of action with Big Brown.
“My father was the pioneer,” Ian McKinlay said after working on horses Tuesday at Monmouth Park.
McKinlay learned from his father, who died in 1990, and, by his sophomore year in high school, was tending to horses’ feet himself. In 1977, he began his career and eventually settled in New Jersey, specializing in Standardbreds that raced at the Meadowlands. He has branched out, treating Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and the occasional show horse.
McKinlay said there was a handful of blacksmiths or veterinarians who regularly worked on foot problems, but he said he believed he was the only person in racing to do that type of work exclusively.
Always tinkering with ways to hone his craft, he is most proud of a type of horseshoe he invented, called a Yasha Shoe. Glued to the hoof instead of nailed into it, the Yasha Shoe has special padding that reduces the concussion to the hoof when it hits the racetrack surface. Big Brown is expected to wear the Yasha Shoe in the Belmont.
“It’s like wearing a sneaker compared to hard-heeled shoes,” McKinlay said.
A resident of South Amboy, N.J., he divides his time among the New York and New Jersey racetracks — and can sometimes be found working out of rest-stop parking lots on the New Jersey Turnpike. He said they were a convenient place to meet up with horses that have to come to him from tracks in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
McKinlay has treated thousands of horses, and many race in obscurity. There is a thrill when a patient wins a major race.
“That’s what it’s all about, watching one of them win a big race,” he said. “That’s the beauty of what I do. Every horse is different, and when they’re pushing for a big race, you have to have your head in the game.”
He has been invited to join the owners at the Belmont. McKinlay politely declined, saying he has work that morning and has so many people who want to watch with him that he does not want to be an imposition.
Instead, he has rented space at a country club near his home, where he will watch with friends and family and, he hopes, celebrate a Triple Crown by Big Brown.
Big Brown could lose, but McKinlay said it would not be because his foot was bothering him.