Athletes know that foot wear plays a major role in performance and comfort. The same goes for equine athletes. Just ask David Erb, the president of Victory Racing Plates, an 85-year-old horseshoe manufacturer, based in Baltimore.
“Just like when you go into a sporting goods store and you look at the wall and see all different shoes for human runners or human competition, there are many, many different styles for horses as well,” Erb said.
You can’t just lace up a horseshoe like a Nike or a Reebok. It takes a lot of work to swap out shoes for racehorses, which are re-shod about every three weeks.
“Hoofs come in all different shapes,” Erb said. “We make a standard shape to use as the basis for any shoeing job. But the farrier’s job is to adapt that shoe by bending it, using a hammer and a stall jack to conform to the actual configuration of the hoof. One size does not fit all, although, many times the shoe comes out of the box and goes right on the hoof without any modification, because we hit it dead-on in our shape.”
A farrier (or blacksmith) is the person doing the work with horseshoes or racing plates. One such farrier working in Maryland is Joe Ludford, who described the difference between steel shoes and aluminum racing plates.
“This is a steel one, this is an aluminum one, and you can see the difference in the wear,” Ludford said. “This is the ground level — it wears out its toe, much more on its toe on the aluminum, and around the edges. And it also wears where the foot moves, and that’s from the wall moving back and forth across the aluminum, wears it. Every time they hit the ground, the wall opens up, then it closes. Opens and closes.”
Back at the Victory Racing Plate factory, David Erb took us on a tour. The process for making these horseshoes is intensive. They start with coiled aluminum and bend it, press it, heat it, cut it, drill it, polish it, and box it up to send it out to farriers the world over. Erb said that technology has allowed them to make shoes lighter and stronger, and that an ounce on the foot is worth a pound on the back. And even Seabiscuit wore aluminum Victory horseshoes
“Seabiscuit actually wore Victory Racing Plates during the entire campaign of Seabiscuit’s life,” Erb said. “In the movie, it’s interesting that they show this big heavy steel shoe in a scene in the barn. Someone like me, I would pick up on that; maybe the average person wouldn’t even see that it was a steel horseshoe, but that horseshoe would never, ever be used on a real thoroughbred racehorse. It’s just too heavy.”
Seabiscuit never won a Triple Crown, and in over 100 years of racing, it’s only been done 11 times. Out those 11, eight of the winners wore Victory Racing Plates.