NEW YORK Before Big Brown can make a run at winning the Triple Crown, his slightly cracked left front hoof needs some final work.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is wearing a second set of stainless steel sutures on the inside of his hoof. They've allowed Big Brown to gallop around Belmont Park while giving the hoof healing time.
Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay said Monday he will wait until Friday to attach an acrylic and fiberglass patch to Big Brown's hoof, the final step in the repair process ahead of Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
"This is just a slight, slight crack," McKinlay said outside Big Brown's barn. "We're being extra cautious because he's heading toward the Triple Crown."
Initially, the plan had called for McKinlay to apply the patch Monday, but he said waiting a couple of extra days would allow for more natural healing to occur.
"As the clock ticks, it's gotten better and better," he said.
Big Brown galloped Monday, with trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. and some of the colt's owners looking on.
"He's moving as good as he ever has," Dutrow said.
Applying the patch involves McKinlay taking out the sutures, cleaning up the area, redrilling holes and putting a new set of sutures in. If necessary, he will put in a drain that would allow any serum to escape. Then he covers up the whole thing with acrylic adhesive that sets in five minutes.
"The adhesive that we'll rebuild that wall with is stronger than the hoof itself," McKinlay said.
Big Brown will go for his last training run Tuesday on the 1 1/2-mile oval, where he will try to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
He missed three days of training last week after the quarter crack was discovered. McKinlay inserted steel sutures to pull the crack together a week ago, which allowed Big Brown to resume training, and then the blacksmith changed them over the weekend.
It's only upon a close look that an observer can spot a white area on Big Brown's left front hoof. The colt's gait has been unaffected, and so has his attitude.
Big Brown lapped up the attention from photographers outside his barn Monday. Walking to a black rubber mat for a bath, he stopped and looked directly at the clicking cameras, both ears pricked. Then he turned his head, as if to show off his best side (his left) like a veteran Hollywood star.
"He knows something is going on because all these people are around him all the time," said exercise rider Michelle Nevin, who distracted Big Brown by shaking a leather lead that he nipped at during his bath.
Big Brown has a history of foot problems dating to late last year, when he first arrived in Dutrow's barn at Aqueduct. He was twice sidelined for 45-day stretches because of abscesses in his left and right front feet.
As a result, Big Brown is a lightly raced horse compared to other 3-year-olds. He's 5-0, having mopped up the competition by a combined 39 lengths.
Big Brown's quarter crack problem is fairly common, with some horses plagued by such an injury throughout their racing careers. A quarter crack is a vertical crack in the hoof wall between the toe and heel of the hoof, 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.
Having McKinlay working on his horse has only increased Dutrow's confidence. The blacksmith, considered one of the best in the business, worked for Dutrow's late father, who trained in Maryland.
"There's no setbacks when you deal with Ian," the younger Dutrow said. "He'll come in. He'll figure it out. He'll give you a timetable. And like nine out of 10 times, it's right on the money."
Which is where Dutrow expects Big Brown to be Saturday.