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A Kentucky Farrier Talks Shop During Derby Week

Todd Boston spends his workdays hammering on horse hooves.

The farrier fits fresh shoes on horses. And this Derby Week, he's one of hundreds of workers -- trainers, holders, cleaners -- milling about in the track's backside stables, making sure the high-priced horses are ready to race.

"It's what we do, every day," he says.

Trainers, tourists, touts and fans will flood Churchill Downs for the famed horse race on Saturday. They'll place bets and throw parties. But very few will get access to the horses like Boston does.

He's shod some of the fastest horses to ever hit the track — Giacomo, Barbaro and even Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh.

"I've never seen anything like him," Boston says.

He grew up at Louisville's old Miles Park and Churchill Downs, making a few bucks a day holding and walking horses. His father, also a farrier, taught him the business. It's a family tradition of sorts: Boston's younger brother is a farrier, too.

And they're good at it.

Kent Sweezey is a trainer's assistant. He's from Louisville but works on a horse farm in New York. He's got an 8-1 shot named Summer Reading racing on Oaks Day, and when the horse needed shoes upon arriving at Churchill Downs, Sweezey called Boston.

"We have the best blacksmiths up in New York, so why would we change it down here," he says.

Boston's traveled the world shoeing horses. At one time, he worked for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai.

Even then, he made sure to make it home for the Kentucky Derby.

"This is the center of the horse industry," he says.

Getting here -- to the backside during Derby Week, putting nails into some of the most expensive hooves in the world -- took a lot of hard work. He's been bitten, kicked and stomped. He takes ibuprofen in the morning, and the hours are consuming.

But It beats an office, he says, and there's no conference calls to take hunched under a horse. "This isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle," he says.

Come Derby morning, he'll drive his big Dodge pickup to the track from his home in Shelbyville. He'll strap on his chaps and get to work, just like any other day at the track.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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