Photo by: Linda Shier/SIT/ http://www.photobylinda.com
Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) — Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who shattered his right hind ankle as an undefeated 3-year-old in pursuit of horse racing’s Triple Crown, lost “his biggest race” and was euthanized today.Barbaro, who won the Derby by the largest margin in 60 years, suffered multiple fractures on May 20, 2006, when he took a misstep 200 yards from the starting gate in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
The horse, whose injury and recovery inspired widespread public affection, was euthanized after developing a painful inflammation in both front feet similar to a condition in his left rear hoof, his surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, said at a news conference.
“It literally left him with not a leg to stand on,” said Richardson, who directed care for the horse at a Pennsylvania veterinary hospital. “It’s not going to be something that’s easy to forget.”
Fans at the Preakness watched jockey Edgar Prado try to pull up the colt, who worsened his injury by continuing to run. Barbaro earlier broke through the starting gate prematurely.
“I thought that this horse had the potential to be an all- time great,” Andy Beyer, an author and Washington Post columnist who developed a widely used handicapping system, said in a telephone interview. He was a self-professed skeptic about previous Triple Crown contenders. “Barbaro was the real thing.”
Affirmed was the last Triple Crown champion, in 1978.
Barbaro underwent what doctors termed “risky” surgery Jan. 27 when a deep abscess was discovered in the right foot, which had healed by year’s end. Pins were inserted in the cannon bone, the long bone in the front of the lower leg, and the leg was rigged in an external device to take the weight off the foot and give doctors access to the injury.
Richard said at the time there was a risk of a fracture in the weight-bearing leg and the front legs.
“Barbaro had many, many good days. Last night for the first night ever, he struggled with what he was doing; he wasn’t comfortable lying down and he wasn’t comfortable standing up,” Richardson said, adding pain medications were intensified. “He was a completely different horse.”
Richardson, who always said he could tell how Barbaro felt by looking in his eyes, said when he looked at him today, “you could see he was upset. It was more than we wanted him to go through.”
Barbaro, suspended in a sling, was euthanized at 10:30 a.m. New York time. Richardson said it was the right time and that he had sometimes waited too long in the past.
“This was not a news flash for the Jacksons,” Richardson said. “As a typical egotistical surgeon, I would just love to prove what I could do, but I had to do what was best for my patient.”
Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, were with the horse during the procedure.
“I would like now for all of us to say a prayer for Barbaro,” said Gretchen. “Grief is the price we all pay for love.”
Barbaro was stricken July 12 with a painful inflammation in his left hind leg, which had been bearing more weight than usual since the accident. The severe case of laminitis, as the affliction is called, set in quickly. Surgeons removed 80 percent of the hoof wall.
Setback: The horse suffered a setback Jan. 9 when a new cast put on his other hind leg became uncomfortable because of further separation in the hoof. A month earlier, Richardson said the colt’s recovery was advancing and he would be released from the hospital in the “not too distant future.” Barbaro had been recuperating in the intensive-care unit of the University’s George D. Widener Hospital, 36 miles southwest of Philadelphia in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
From the outset, Richardson gave Barbaro a 50-50 chance of survival and warned about the complications that would arise from laminitis.
Richardson fused the shattered bones by implanting a plate and screws May 21 and holding them in place with a cast that covered the hoof to the hock. The original operation lasted more than four hours.
The surgeon said he had fixed horses with similar injuries, but never one with a combination that caused so much damage. Most racehorses who suffer serious leg injuries are euthanized at the track.
“The race of healing this fracture is the one we’d like him to win,” Richardson said two days after the surgery. “It’s probably his biggest race.”
Barbaro, trained by Michael Matz, became the sixth horse to win the Derby after entering the race undefeated. His 6 1/2- length win was the widest margin since Triple Crown winner Assault won by eight lengths in 1946.
Barbaro won his first race at Delaware Park in October 2005, followed by an eight-length victory in the Laurel Futurity and the Tropical Park Derby.
He won the Holy Bull on a sloppy track and boosted his record to five straight victories with a win April 1, 2006, at the Florida Derby, five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. He became the first horse in 50 years to win the first leg of the Triple Crown after a layoff of five weeks or more.
Barbaro’s tragedy caught the attention of the nation. The hospital established an e-mail address for well-wishers, who kept crashing the internal system. The response prompted Richardson to note that the colt, dark-bay with a white star on the forehead, didn’t have a keyboard in his stable. Carrots, apples, flowers and horse treats were delivered daily.
“His memory will live forever,” said Alex Waldrop, chief executive officer of the NTRA. “America’s compassion and love for Barbaro speak to the incredible bond that people share with thoroughbreds and our sport.”
His popularity was compared by some with that of Seabiscuit, the tiny colt who became champion in the 1930s.
“Seabiscuit and Barbaro bore very little resemblance as racehorses: Seabiscuit was unfashionably bred and unfortunately conformed, and rose from origins of embarrassing futility; Barbaro was a splendid creature who never lost a race until his last,” said Laura Hillenbrand, the author of `Seabiscuit,” a best-selling book that was made into a movie. “In terms of their public appeal, Seabiscuit’s story is one of a public’s identification with the underdog; Barbaro’s is one of the public’s compassion for the injured.”
Had Barbaro survived, Hillenbrand said in an e-mail interview, he would have shared with Seabiscuit “a supreme triumph in the face of impossible odds.”
The Jacksons, who bred and owned the horse, lived 10 miles away from the hospital in West Grove, Pennsylvania, and visited Barbaro at least twice a day. They spent tens of thousands of dollars on hospital bills to save the life of the colt, valued at $25 million before his injury.
“The sad part in Barbaro’s case is the American public won’t get a chance to see him continue his racing career,” Roy Jackson, whose horse earned more than $2.3 million in six starts, said earlier. “We probably didn’t see his greatest race.”
By Nancy Kercheval reprinted with permission
Last Updated: January 29, 2007 17:02 EST