Like father, like son: Longtime farrier says it's all in the family at Churchill Downs

Like father, like son: Longtime farrier says it's all in the family at Churchill Downs
(Source: Annie Moore/ WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Todd Boston is holding the hoof of a 1,000-pound animal between his knees.

It's just another day at the office.

Boston has been a farrier for 32 years, following in the footsteps of his father Bob Boston. The elder Boston shoed horses at Churchill Downs, and inspired an apprentice and son who would go on to shoe Derby winners and royal equines.

Todd is a quiet man, going about his work and answering questions from passersby, never shifting his focus from the task at hand.

"When we're shoeing these horses, it isn't so much they need the new shoes," Boston said. "They need their feet trimmed. Because their toes start getting long, and you can tell their legs aren't very big and that puts a lot of pressure up their limbs. So we're trying to get some toe off them and keep them up under themselves so they can unload weight correctly."

Today he's shoeing Monomoy Girl, trainer Brad Cox's likely Oaks favorite. He goes about his work with immense care, checking in with the filly after each shoe, making each strike with technical precision.

"I grew up around this," Todd said. "Never thought I'd do it, looked too daggone hard to me. But in the summertime, I was working out here and he always said if I wanted to learn ... and that was 32 years ago."

Todd's partner today, and for the past two decades, is Kevin Howard. They'll work through eight to 12 horses per day.

The team of farriers moves from barn to barn on Churchill Downs' backside, and are hard-pressed to go 10 minutes without an inquiry on their next availability. Boston is a known and trusted name for shoeing, having taken care of Big Brown, Barbaro, American Pharoah and countless others.

Derby champions aren't his only clientele. Boston's work has taken him to seven countries, including a residency in Dubai working for Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

"I've gone to seven countries with this," Boston said. "France, I lived in France for a year. England, Jordan, Syria, Qatar and Oman."

But to walk up to his truck is not to feel in the presence of an elite craftsman or farrier to the stars. Boston is a humble, quiet man with a kind smile and endless patience for the same questions he answers every day.

A tour group stops by and someone asks what the horse shoes are made of.

"Aluminum, some steel," Boston answers briefly, but not dismissively, never looking up from the hoof in his hands.

The group asks a couple more questions, are satisfied with his answers and leaves.

"Same old questions," Boston says, with an understanding smile. He's a true craftsman who appreciates the interest in his work.

When Liz Crow walks up, Boston leaves his station and takes her to the back of his work truck. Crow has a vested interest in Monomoy Girl; she's a partner at BSW Bloodstock and co-owner of Elite Sales. She's the one who bought the horse at the 2016 Keeneland for BSW Bloodstock. She and trainer Brad Cox, along with the rest of the connections, are cautiously optimistic for Friday's big race.

Boston saved Monomoy Girl's shoes for the team, and had a special plaque made for her first Grade I victory, the Ashland at Keeneland on April 7. The smile on Crow's face is the product of a gesture that's evidence to Boston's care, and proof positive why trainers, owners and crown princes trust him with their million-dollar athletes.

"I've known Todd for a long time," Crow said. "Back when I worked with Johnathan Sheppard, here and at Keeneland, he did some work for us. So I've known him for a long time. He's one of the best farriers there is. It means a lot for him to do (Monomoy Girl)'s shoes."

She looks on while Boston finishes his work, making jokes with Howard and checking her phone, knowing her filly is in good hands.

Just as a bipedal human athlete needs the latest equipment and footwear to prepare for competition, the shoeing of a horse is integral to its health and competitive success.

"It's everything," Crow said. "You think about (when) Justwhistledixie came out with a foot problem the morning of the Oaks and I was just thinking about this. This is as important as any of the preparation. If this doesn't go right, she's not ready to fire her best race. Years and years you dream of getting to this stage. Everything has to go perfect for you to be in this situation. That's why Brad (Cox) uses him."

A job like Boston's comes with its share of occupational hazards, though you wouldn't know it from the quiet chemistry between he and Monomoy Girl. Both Howard and Boston shared anecdotes of close calls they've had with upset horses in the past. Kicks to the legs, and a couple close calls and knock downs. But it's all part of the territory, Boston says.

He finishes taking care of Monomoy Girl, shakes hands with her handler and Crow, and sends them on their way. A small smile of pride creeps across his face as he says he might have just shoed another Oaks winner.

The duo will stay busy this week, shoeing from now until the morning of Derby Day. Every trainer and horse is different about when they want to get shoed. But something agreed up on by all is the necessity of a job well done.

That's what Boston provides. He understands the importance of his work and doesn't take one hoof lightly.

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