Friday, May 13, 2011


Louisville, Kentucky. Visited August 2009

I’ve made a command decision. For as long as I’m doing this blog I’ve decided that each Triple Crown season I will feature a racehorse. You might say, ‘how long can he sustain that?’. Don’t worry, I’m well stocked with options. Perhaps you should worry….

I’ve already featured the great Secretariat in the Fall of 2010, so for this Triple Crown season I’m going to cover the tragic story of Barbaro.

Barbaro was foaled at Lael Stables in West Grove, PA, making him the third horse with Pennsylvania connections in a row to dominate the Triple Crown races (following Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex) – a very unusual trifecta for a sport ruled by Kentucky-bred colts. He was descended from the great Mr. Prospector, which made him a cousin to other recent Kentucky Derby winners Big Brown, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide and Fusaichi Pegasus. He was trained at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland by Michael Matz.

Riding to victory in the Kentucky Derby
Entering the Triple Crown season of 2006 Barbaro was undefeated and had been set in as a 6 to 1 second favorite in the Kentucky Derby on the basis of a strong Florida Derby win. Ridden by Edgar Prado, Barbaro dominated the Derby, winning by six and a half lengths over a 20 horse field – the largest margin of victory in a Kentucky Derby in 60 years. On the strength of that victory he seemed to poised to make a serious run at the Triple Crown.  View his thrilling Run for the Roses here.

Edgar Prado calming Barbaro after breaking
down at the Preakness

However, tragedy struck two weeks later at the Preakness Stakes when, shortly after breaking from the gate the horse veered sharply and pulled up lame. Prado immediately dismounted and supported the horse’s leg as track personnel rushed to the scene. Barbaro was able to be loaded onto an ambulance and carried from the track. Upon examination it was found that he had broken 20 bones in his right hind leg.

Barbaro receiving treatment at New Bolton Center
Eventually the horse was transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s equine veterinary center in New Bolton, PA, where specialists tried to reset the leg and prevent further damage. For over six months veterinarians tried various means to heal Barbaro’s injuries, but the infections that are all too common with thoroughbred horse leg injuries eventually made it impossible for the horse to stand without pain. Medical remedies exhausted, it became obvious to the doctors that Barbaro’s condition would only worsen with time. Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson stood in attendance as Barbaro was put down January 29, 2007.

It was decided that his remains would be buried at the entrance to Churchill Downs in Louisville. A statue marking his grave was unveiled at the site in April 2009.

Like many people I admired the beauty and power of the dark brown colt. His impressive Kentucky Derby win catapulted him to national attention, making his accident all the more tragic to racing fans and horse lovers. The nation kept remarkable vigil through the ups and downs of his treatment at New Bolton. I live just about 20 minutes from the stables where Barbaro was raised. The Equine Center is right on Route 926 heading from my house to my in-laws so I had the chance to drive by it while he was there a number of times. I always saw new get well wreaths and posters from well wishers covering the entrance.

While attending a counseling conference at Sojourn Church in Louisville I had the opportunity to tour Churchhill Downs and see Barbaro’s beautiful memorial just a few months after it was unveiled.

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