Barbaro Will Change Our Lives Forever
by Kelly Gage
On January 29, Barbaro was humanely euthanized at 10:30 a.m. (EST) following a nine-month long and difficult recovery from a shattered right leg and reoccurring laminitis at University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. He was four years old. The bay son of Dynaformer (Roberto) was born at Springmint Farm in Nicholasville, Ky on April 29, 2003. He was the second foal out of the stakes producing La Ville Rouge (Carson City) and they knew Barbaro was special from the start. The Olympic champion turned racehorse trainer Michael Matz pupil broke his maiden in 2005 by 8 1/2-lengths on the turf at Delaware Park. He then went immediately into stakes class, winning the Laurel Futurity, by another 8 lengths as a two-year-old.
In 2006 the Jackson’s colt became a prized sophomore. Starting the year off with a Grade 3, 3 3/4-length win at the Tropical Park Derby with regular jockey Garrett Gomez, he quickly followed up almost a month later with a 1 3/4-length score the Holy Bull S. (G3). But it was Barbaro’s Florida Derby (G1) that captured horse racing’s attention, and set him on a course for the 132ND running of the Kentucky Derby (G1).
The first Saturday in May dawned warm over the twin spires of Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. Going in undefeated, Barbaro went off as the 6-1 second choice behind Sweetnorthernsaint (Sweetsouthernsaint). Briefly stumbling out of the gate, Prado steadied him and began what would later turn out to be a record 6 1/2 – length win under a hand ride.
“We’re sort of speechless,” Roy Jackson said. “We’ve been in racing for a long time. You always dream of getting to the Kentucky Derby. Just getting here was something really special for us, and to in it is- I really don’t have the words to express it right now.”
Barbaro Passed Away
When fates collide:
In what was to be the nation’s next Triple Crown champion, turned into heartbreak during the Preakness S. (G1).
Suffering from a condylar fracture above his right hind ankle as well as another fracture below the ankle that broke the leg in more than 20 pieces, Barbaro was immediately shipped to New Bolton Center, where he was teamed up with the unassuming, head surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson.
"It is very unusual to have three catastrophic injuries all together," Richardson commented. "I've never seen this exact fracture and I never tackled one before."
The goal was set: to keep Barbaro as pain free as possible, for as long as possible.
The first surgery was a success, with Barbaro walking back to his stall. But, even Dr. Richardson knew the first day with an injury that would usually call for immediate euthanasia, nothing is certain. “I was an optimist,” he later said during the last press conference. “But smart enough to know the challenges.”
Defying the odds the spirited colt began to recover, even suffering through a full case of laminitis. Despite multiple surgeries, bandage changes, radiographs and countless procedures to fuse the bones together, the composed colt was almost trotting down road to recovery.
A nation’s hero:
For eight months the nation watched on pins and needles for updates. Entire newscasts, websites and blogs were created and devoted to supporting this horse. People from far away as Scotland wrote in daily just to wish him good morning. Outside the hospital itself, posters of “Grow Hoof Grow”, “We Believe in Barbaro” and other signs of encouragement heavily lined the entrance.
It didn’t stop there, everyday, Barbaro received loads of carrot, fruit baskets and letters from all around the world. People began donating monetary funds, purchasing the Breyer model, and eventually private donation was made in his name, and the now multi-million dollar Barbaro Fund and newly anointed Barbaro Foundation are becoming forces unto their own in the equestrian community.
Barbaro Passed Away
If wishes were horses:
In an apathetic political state of mind of over indulgent athletes, and one hit wonders, Barbaro never faded from the forefront of our minds.
He briefly, but gloriously united us all. Horseman and the average person, thoroughbred industry and sport horse, rallying cry and action, he was an iconic symbol that held the hopes and dreams of many and could do no wrong.
“People love greatness and the story of his bravery.” said Gretchen.
He became not only a hero to us, but to other horses.
Barbaro turned into an equine rights symbol, and his connections into political activists for the horse at large. Galvanizing issues such as the Anti Slaughter Bill, health care for backside workers and finding a cure for laminitis, they rallied around their battered recovering hero to prevent and help.
“These issues won’t die,” Gretchen noted. “But will be acted on in a positive way.”
He became University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Hospital’s poster child, procuring funds for them for the first time since 1967 to enable more research and take on more patients.
Again the public rewarded him during the Eclipse Awards, voting him, and his recovery, the National Thoroughbred Racing Moment of the Year.
But things began to deteriorate quickly after that, going to extreme lengths to keep Barbaro out of pain; Richardson surgically attached an external support on the right hind leg to prevent the abscess that had developed over a period of time. The new device would not allow Barbaro to bear any weight on his right hind foot. Instead, all the weight will be borne on the pins in his cannon bone.
It was on evening of January 28 that the deterioration was too much to bear. Barbaro had become laminitic in both his front feet, and was in so much pain that he was unable to normally function.
“He had a difficult night,” Richardson said. “He didn’t sleep, didn’t lie down, and was clearly distressed by the situation. “It’s like a deck of cards, when one thing goes wrong, all of it could go. He was a different horse, and he was upset. It was said early on if we couldn’t control his discomfort, we couldn’t go on.”
The day had come when Barbaro couldn’t go on. The horse who had carried a nation’s hopes and dreams on a ravaged body just simply could not continue.
Standing by him until the end, the Jacksons made their decision to euthanize their beloved colt.
“Grief is the price we pay for love,” said a grief stricken Gretchen Jackson. “I hope we can turn our love throughout the world, not just our country, not just the Thoroughbred breed, but those throughout the world.”
It is said “that a real hero is always a hero by mistake” (Umberto Eco), and Barbaro exemplified that. He was an ordinary horse, who excelled in extraordinary and precarious circumstances.
While his racing career was tragically cut short, his recovery and contribution to the equine world is the stuff of legends. His legacy will go on, with his full brother, and in the countless memories of the people he touched by simply being there.