The thrilling finish of the Grade 2 Lukas Classic was punctuated by the story of Rich Strike’s jockey Sonny León leaning hard into eventual winner Hot Rod Charlie in the deep stretch when he said his saddle slid out of place.
Now there is new drama about Hot Rod Charlie’s equipment from start to finish of Saturday’s race at Churchill Downs.
Photos sent to several members of the racing media and further inspection of images taken by Jennie Doyle and Matt Wooley of Eclipse Sportswire (included in this story) appeared to show the eventual winner wearing toe grabs on his front hooves. That would seem to be in violation of state and federal regulations.
Eric Reed, who trained Rich Strike to a runner-up finish in the race that was decided by a head, said Tuesday afternoon he sent some of the photos to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chief steward Barbara Borden.
“I had my attorney with me when I called her,” Reed said. “This horse should be disqualified, shouldn’t he?”
That was the question Reed asked Borden, who did not respond to Horse Racing Nation’s request for comment.
A spokesperson said Wednesday morning in an email to HRN, “I can confirm that the KHRC is investigating the matter as they do any potential violation that is brought to their attention.”
“Every horse in that race was at an unfair disadvantage,” Reed said, adding a formal, written appeal was filed with the KHRC on Tuesday afternoon.
Toe grabs take a small crescent shape beneath the front of horseshoes in order to dig in and improve traction. They also cause added strain on horses’ hooves, pasterns and fetlocks and increase the likelihood of catastrophic injuries, according to a 2004 study that was endorsed by the Jockey Club.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, O'Neill responded by noting his stable "stopped using shoes with toe grabs long ago.
"I swear on a stack of Bibles, that none of the horses in our stable wear toe grabs, and have not for years. I am 100% behind the science and studies that show toe grabs heighten the risk of limb injury, which is why we stopped using shoes with toe grabs long ago.
"After seeing the photo, I don't blame Eric Reed for questioning Charlie's shoes. My only thought is that the photo is a weird reflection or is a result of being altered."
Because of the safety concerns, Kentucky was among the first racing states to impose restrictions against toe grabs. KHRC section 10, rule 10, begins by saying, “The following shall not be used on the front shoes of horses while racing or training on any racing surface – horseshoes that have toe grabs.”
Federal safety regulations imposed July 1 through the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act also specifically ban toe grabs. Rule 2276 says, in part, “Horseshoe traction devices are prohibited on forelimb and hindlimb horseshoes during racing and training on dirt or synthetic racing tracks. ... Traction devices include but are not limited to rims, toe grabs, bends, jar calks and stickers.”
Under section 3 and 4 of KHRC regulations, a protest may be filed within one week of the race if it were for reasons not among the listed “objections to acts in race” that had to be raised within 48 hours. Where interference and riding fouls are specifically mentioned as “acts in race,” equipment infractions appear to fall in the one-week category.
Monday, Kentucky stewards suspended León for 15 days “for intentionally attempting to interfere with and impede the progress of a rival by repeatedly making physical contact with another rider in the stretch.”
León blamed his sideswipe of Hot Rod Charlie on a saddle that slid to his left, a claim that led to vigorous debate over its credibility. Reed said that León did not attend a video review with stewards to offer that explanation.