NEW YORK Big Brown's cracked left front hoof is improving daily and held up well Tuesday in his final workout before the Belmont Stakes and his bid for the Triple Crown.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. will wait until Friday to have a patch applied. Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay suggested putting on the patch Saturday, the morning of the Belmont. Dutrow, however, doesn't want to deal with it on what could be a historic day.
"This is just a slight, slight crack," McKinlay said Monday. "As the clock ticks, it's gotten better and better. We're being extra cautious because he's heading toward the Triple Crown."
Big Brown ran 5 furlongs in a minute Tuesday.
"There's not any issues with our horse," Dutrow said. "He's right on target. He's by far the best horse in the race."
Dutrow said Big Brown's hoof held up well in the workout and there was no blood spotted in the hoof afterward.
"He jumped over a big hurdle today," the trainer said.
McKinlay said any suggestion that the injured hoof 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 Monday. "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."
McKinlay had planned to apply the acrylic and fiberglass patch Monday, but decided to wait a few days so the crack could heal naturally.
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.
Dutrow 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, Big Brown will be running on anabolic steroids. The colt receives a monthly injection of Winstrol, which is known to increase appetite and weight.
The steroid is legal at New York tracks, although Dutrow has said if it was banned, he would stop using it on Big Brown and all his other horses.
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 race time, they aren't reported or detected.
Winstrol is the same steroid for which Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive 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 in whose barn Big Brown is staying at Belmont Park.