NEW YORK Big Brown's cracked left front hoof won't be patched until Friday, the day before he races in the Belmont Stakes for a shot at Triple Crown history.
Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay planned to apply the acrylic and fiberglass patch Monday but decided to wait a few days so the crack could heal naturally.
"This is just a slight, slight crack," McKinlay said, standing outside Big Brown's barn. "As the clock ticks, it's gotten better and better. We're being extra cautious because he's heading toward the Triple Crown."
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.
Then he will cover it all with an acrylic adhesive that sets in five minutes.
"The adhesive that we'll rebuild that wall with is stronger than the hoof itself," McKinlay said.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said he's comfortable with McKinlay's plan and dismissed critics who have expressed concern for Big Brown's safety.
"Let them think what they want. I don't care," Dutrow said. "I'm trying to do the best I can for the horse. Always. If they don't agree with it, that's fine with me.
"If he runs terrible and he's got a bleeding foot after the race, I'm sure there will be plenty of questions thrown my way," he said. "If he does what he's already been doing, maybe they'll say, 'Well, it looks like they handled it the right way."'
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, 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.
In addition to the patch, the Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner will be running on anabolic steroids.
As part of his training, Big Brown receives a monthly injection of Winstrol, which is known to increase appetite and weight.
The steroid is legal at New York racetracks, although Dutrow has said if it was banned, he would stop using it on Big Brown and all his other horses.
Besides Dutrow, The New York Times said trainer Barclay Tagg plans to run Tale of Ekati on steroids Saturday. Many therapeutic medications are administered to horses and as long as they clear their systems by racetime, they aren't reported or detected.
Winstrol happens to be the same steroid that Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when he was stripped of his gold medal. More recently, Roger Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee, said he injected the pitcher with Winstrol in 1998.
"He's doing what he thinks is right," said Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, a mentor to Dutrow and whose barn Big Brown is staying in at Belmont Park.
Big Brown has a history of foot problems dating to late last year, when he first arrived in Dutrow's barn at Aqueduct. Twice he was sidelined for 45-day stretches because of abscesses in his left and right front feet.
Big Brown 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, allowing Big Brown to resume training.
McKinlay said any suggestion that the hoof issue could jeopardize Big Brown's life is "absolute nonsense."
"I don't like people accusing Rick or accusing this industry of just taking horses and throwing them to the wolves for money. These guys love these horses," he said. "Yes, there's a lot of money at stake, but they're not going to do it. They'd be an idiot to do it. He's certainly worth a lot more alive than he is dead."
Big Brown galloped Monday and Dutrow said, "He's moving as good as he ever has."
The horse is scheduled for a final workout on the 1 1/2-mile oval Tuesday.
"As far as his foot goes, I don't even think it's an issue," McKinlay said.