KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- So many people felt a stake in
Barbaro's recovery. They imagined his pain, grimaced each time he
faltered, took heart as each day passed and he was still alive,
making painfully slow progress.
The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner's fight for survival was their
fight, a symbol of strength, courage and comfort -- and, more than
anything else, a source of inspiration.
He was, after all, winner of the world's most famous race, in a
sport desperate for a superstar. For months he seemed, remarkably,
to take everything that came at him: good and bad.
Finally, it was too much.
Barbaro was euthanized Monday after complications from his
gruesome breakdown at last year's Preakness, ending an eight-month
ordeal that made him even more of a hero than he was as a champion
on the track.
"Certainly, grief is the price we all pay for love," co-owner
Gretchen Jackson said.
A series of ailments -- including laminitis in the left rear
hoof, an abscess in the right rear hoof, as well as new laminitis
in both front feet -- proved too much for the gallant colt. Barbaro
was given a heavy dose of a tranquilizer and an overdose of an
anesthetic and put down at 10:30 a.m.
"I really didn't think it was appropriate to continue treatment
because the probability of getting better was so poor," said Dr.
Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at the New Bolton Center.
Richardson, fighting back tears, added: "Barbaro had many, many
The bay colt underwent nearly two dozen surgeries and other
procedures, including cast changes under anesthesia. He spent time
in a sling to ease pressure on his legs, had pins inserted and was
fitted at the end with an external brace -- extraordinary measures
for injuries that most horses never survive.
Weeks of positive reports turned into months. Barbaro was eyeing
the mares, nickering, gobbling up his feed and trying to walk out
of his stall. But Richardson warned there still could be trouble,
and by mid-July, his greatest fear became reality -- laminitis
struck Barbaro's left hind leg.
On Sunday, a day after Barbaro's fight for survival had reached
a critical point, Richardson compared the various injuries to a
"house of cards." One part falls, and the rest start to crumble.
In this case, it was the laminitis that attacked both front feet
that left him vulnerable.
"That left him with not a good leg to stand on," Richardson
The disease affected his personality, too. The eyes that had
been so bright and full of life were darker Monday morning. Barbaro
clearly was in distress.
"You could see he was upset," Richardson said. "That was the
difference. It was more than we wanted to put him through."
Roy and Gretchen Jackson were with Barbaro on Monday morning and
made the decision in consultation with Richardson.
"We just reached a point where it was going to be difficult for
him to go on without pain," Roy Jackson said. "It was the right
decision, it was the right thing to do. We said all along if there
was a situation where it would become more difficult for him, then
it would be time."
With dark red roses on the table at an afternoon press
conference, Richardson and the Jacksons were emotional talking
about the colt. Many staffers welled up, and by early evening the
lobby was overflowing with roses and other assorted flowers sent by
The scene seemed to mimic months earlier when Barbaro became
America's No. 1 patient after he first suffered his catastrophic
On May 20, Barbaro was rushed to the New Bolton Center, about 30
miles from Philadelphia in Kennett Square, hours after shattering
his right hind leg just a few strides into the Preakness Stakes. He
underwent a five-hour operation that fused two joints, and
Richardson called the colt's chances a "coin toss."
The recovery, though, seemed to go well. The bones that had
shattered in the Preakness were healed and the only major concern
was in Barbaro's left rear leg, where 80 percent of the hoof had
been removed in July when he developed laminitis.
Then a deep abscess in the right hind hoof began causing
discomfort last week, and surgery was required to insert two steel
pins in a bone to eliminate all weight bearing on the ailing right
"This horse was a hero," said David Switzer, executive
director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "His owners
went above and beyond the call of duty to save this horse. It's an
unfortunate situation, but I think they did the right thing in
putting him down."
When Barbaro broke down, his right hind leg flared out awkwardly
as jockey Edgar Prado jumped off and tried to steady the ailing
horse. Race fans at Pimlico wept. Within 24 hours fans across the
country seemed to be caught up in a "Barbaro watch."
Well-wishers young and old showed up at the New Bolton Center
with cards, flowers, gifts, goodies and even religious medals, and
thousands of e-mails poured into the hospital's Web site. The
biggest gift has been the $1.2 million raised since early June for
the Barbaro Fund, money to be put toward needed equipment such as
an operating room table and a raft and sling for the same pool
recovery Barbaro used after his surgeries.
The Jacksons, who own about 70 racehorses, broodmares and
yearlings and have been in the business for 30 years, spent tens of
thousands of dollars hoping the best horse they ever owned would
"Everything was looking really, really good, and, of course, I
honestly thought that the horse was going to pull it off," said
breeder Bill Sanborn at Springmint Farm near Nicholasville, Ky.,
where Barbaro was foaled and raised.
La Ville Rouge, Barbaro's dam, remains pregnant at Mills Ridge
Farm in Lexington with a full brother to Barbaro. The foal is
expected in the early spring.
A son of Dynaformer, Barbaro started his career on the turf, but
trainer Michael Matz knew he would have to try his versatile colt
on the dirt. He had to find out early if the horse was good enough
for the Triple Crown races.
Barbaro was good enough, all right. After winning his first
three races on turf with authority, Matz drew up an unconventional
plan for a dirt campaign that spaced out Barbaro's races to save
him for the entire Triple Crown, three races in five weeks at
varying distances over different tracks.
In his dirt debut, Barbaro won the Holy Bull Stakes over a
sloppy track at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4. After an unusually long
eight-week break, he won the Florida Derby by a half-length over
Sharp Humor and it was on to Churchill Downs, though not without
criticism that Barbaro couldn't win the Kentucky Derby after a
five-week layoff. After all, it had been 50 years since Needles won
the Derby off a similar break.
Not only did Barbaro win the Derby, he demolished what was
supposed to be one of the toughest fields in years. The 6½-length
winning margin was the largest since 1946, when Assault won by
eight lengths and went on to sweep the Triple Crown.
Barbaro would never get his chance at a Triple. His career,
which earned $2,302,200, would end in the Preakness, where that
horrible misstep would lead to his only loss in seven starts.