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In recovery, Barbaro still has plenty of horse sense

In his first and only interview since breaking down at the Preakness Stakes on May 20, Barbaro spoke to ESPN.com about that horrifying day at Pimlico, the surgery to save his life and his inspirational road to recovery.

BARBARO: Wait a second, pal. Who the hell are you?

GW: Uh, I'm Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com.

BARBARO: Never heard of you. Where's Boomer or the booyah guy? I thought this was a Sunday Night Conversation gig.

GW: Uh, sorry. But we do get about 40 million page views per day, which makes us the most trafficked Internet sports site.

BARBARO: Talk to the hoof, because the ears aren't listening. I can't believe I got my mane braided for this. What, The Schwab was busy? My publicist is sooooo fired.

GW: Why don't we start with the question everyone is asking: How does it feel to be alive?

BARBARO: Well, Larry King, it feels a lot better than being dead. Don't know if you noticed, but when you break as many bones as I did, they usually pitch a screen around you on the track and inject the bye-bye drug. Before you know it, you're in the big stable in the sky.

GW: Is that what you thought was going to happen to you?

BARBARO: I was like Lefty at Winged Foot; I was in shock. The sesamoid bone in my right hind leg was broken. So was my cannon bone. My long pastern bone was in more pieces than a Lego set. My fetlock joint was dislocated. Usually if you break two of those three bones, you're a goner.

And by the way, what was Lefty thinking on No. 18? Hitting driver off the tee was bad enough, but then 3-iron out of that hay?

GW: What do you remember about the race itself?

BARBARO: I remember I was going to kick some Preakness butt.

GW: You were that confident?

BARBARO: Let me introduce myself. My name's Barbaro. I won the Kentucky Derby by lengths, which, Mr. Box of Rocks, is the biggest winning margin since 1946. In the final furlong I actually increased my lead, and I did it without my jockey, Edgar Prado -- you know what a jockey is, right? -- asking for top speed.

Before the Derby started, when I was coming out of the paddock, I saw Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich, who's forgotten more about horse racing than you'll ever know. You know what he said when he saw me?

GW: No, I don't.

BARBARO: He said I was like, "a coiled spring," the best-looking horse he'd ever seen. And he's never said that about any horse in his life. So, yeah, I liked my chances to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

GW: You had a false start at the Preakness. They put you back in the gate, start the race and then, well, why don't you take us through it.

BARBARO: I don't know what to say about the false start. Nerves, maybe? All I remember about the actual race is that I broke nicely, was in a good position, and then, boom, I'm on three legs. They say Brother Derek might have clipped me from behind, but nobody knows for sure. If he did, no hard feelings. That's racing.

GW: And then?

BARBARO: And then my right hind is dangling, which isn't a good thing. Edgar jumped off and, bless his heart, calmed me down and then sort of tried to prop me up like a tire jack. You know, to take the weight off my leg. The little dude doesn't weigh much, but I'll never forget what he did that day.

GW: You were transported to the Widener Veterinary Hospital at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., where Dr. Dean Richardson performed surgery on your injured leg the next day for nearly six hours.

BARBARO: Like I said, most horses would have been put down right after the race. But even though my owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, had insurance on me, they told Dr. Richardson to do whatever he could to save me. I was flip-of-a-coin there, even with the surgery. So many things could have gone wrong: infection, circulatory problems, you name it. They still can. I've got more screws in my long pastern than Home Depot.

GW: You've been in the intensive care unit for nearly six weeks. How would you describe the recovery process?

BARBARO: Well, I can't do an easy mile, if that's what you mean. I can walk, and put weight on all fours, though, one of those fours has a cast on it.

The bottom line is that I'm still in some degree of danger, but every day I put a little more distance between me and the chance of post-surgical complications. In fact, Dr. Corinne Sweeney, who's the University of Pennsylvania associate dean for the New Bolton Center, was just in here a few minutes ago feeding me sugar cubes. I love sugar cubes. Anyway, she says yours truly -- and I quote -- "couldn't be doing any better … he hasn't made any steps backward, they're all forward."

GW: Dr. Sweeney told me that you've maintained your weight, that you've got an engaging personality, and that you like to check out the new patients who arrive at the ICU.

BARBARO: I'm going to have to remind Sweeney about doctor-patient confidentiality.

GW: She says you don't mope around, that you act like a healthy horse who is healing.

BARBARO: If it were up to me, I'd sign the discharge papers and go home today. But they treat me and the other five patients here on the adult side of the ICU like kings. I've got an 11-foot by 13-foot private corner stall. I've got air conditioning. And you should see the care packages I get.

GW: Like what?

BARBARO: On Monday someone sent me a fruit basket so big that you needed a forklift to move it. I get sugar cubes, fresh carrots, apples, peppermints (the human kind and the horse kind), as well as my usual servings of hay and grain. Oh, and get this: A very nice woman from Florida sent us a song she had composed about me. She's a professional songwriter, so that was cool.

GW: Any distinguished visitors?

BARBARO: Well, the governor of Pennsylvania stopped by. And the Jacksons are here a lot. Sometimes they bring friends. And the media doesn't know this, but Edgar and his family sneaked in last week to see me.

And, oh, I'd like to thank all the regular folks who have sent get-well cards, and who still drive all the way to Kennett Square to check on me. They're not allowed to visit, but I appreciate the effort.

GW: You sound as if you're at peace with your situation.

BARBARO: Being "at peace,'' is better than "resting in peace.'' I'll never race again, but I'm luckier than a lot of horses. Ferdinand, who won the 1986 Kentucky Derby, died in a Japanese slaughterhouse. And if I make it out of here OK, I'll be put out to stud. So I'm looking at this as a Dirk Diggler career opportunity.

GW: Is there a timetable for your release?

BARBARO: That's up to Dr. Richardson, but he's told me, best-case scenario, I'll be here a minimum of two more months. But if I'm here much longer they'll start calling me the Booz Allen Classic.

GW: Anything else you'd like to say to all your fans?

BARBARO: Thank you for your support, prayers and cards. They've meant -- aw, crap, I'm starting to tear up -- so much to me.

GW: So those fans have been the glue to hold you together during this trying time?

BARBARO: Glue jokes. Not funny. Not funny at all.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.