KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- He still looks every bit the
champion. Only the fiberglass casts on not one but both of
Barbaro's hind legs are indicators of something terribly wrong.
"His ears are up, he's bright, he's looking around," Dr. Dean
Richardson said Thursday. "If you look at this horse, it'd be hard
to put him down."
That precisely is the heartbreaking task that could be imminent
because of a hoof disease so serious Richardson said the Kentucky
Derby winner is "a long shot" to survive.
"It could happen within 24 hours," Richardson said during a
news conference at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton
Richardson said Barbaro has a severe case of laminitis in his
left hind leg -- a painful, often fatal disease caused by uneven
weight distribution in the limbs.
"If he starts acting like he doesn't want to stand on the leg,
that's it. That will be when we call it quits," he said.
Richardson, who has treated Barbaro since the colt suffered
catastrophic injuries in the Preakness on May 20, said 80 percent
of the horse's left hoof wall was removed Wednesday with the sudden
onset of the disease.
Though he looks just fine, that doesn't reflect the true nature
of his condition, termed "poor" by Richardson.
"I'd be lying if I said anything other than poor," he said.
"As long as the horse is not suffering, we are going to continue
to try to save him. If we can keep him comfortable, we think it's
worth the effort."
Barbaro is being treated aggressively with pain medication and
remains in the same stall he's been in since being brought to the
intensive care unit at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large
Until his misstep at the Preakness, Barbaro's career was nothing
short of brilliant.
He won his first five starts, including the Florida Derby. His 6
1-2-length victory at the Derby was so convincing he was being
hailed as the next likely Triple Crown champion and first since
Affirmed since 1978.
But seconds after the gates swung open at Pimlico, that career
was cut short when the colt broke down, his right hind leg flaring
out awkwardly because of three broken bones.
Race fans at Pimlico wept and within 24 hours the entire nation
seemed to be caught up in a "Barbaro watch," waiting for any news
of his surgery and condition.
And for the longest time, it all seemed to be going well.
Barbaro's first six weeks of recovery were relatively smooth --
despite five hours of surgery to insert a titanium plate and 27
screws into his three shattered bones.
Each day brought more optimism: Barbaro was eyeing the mares,
nickering, gobbling up his feed and trying to walk out of his
stall. There was great hope Barbaro somehow would overcome the odds
and live a life of leisure on the farm, although he'd always have a
hitch in his gait.
Richardson, along with owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson and
trainer Michael Matz, all believed the colt had a chance to
Until last week, when Barbaro's condition steadily worsened.
The colt underwent three surgical procedures and four cast
changes on the injured leg, followed by a hoof wall re-section to
remove 80 percent of his left rear hoof.
"I really thought we were going to make it two weeks ago,"
Richardson said. "Today I'm not as confident."
Within hours of the grim update, roses and apples began arriving
at the hospital, and hundreds of get-well e-mail messages were
posted on a Web site set up by the New Bolton Center.
The vet didn't mince words: "It's as bad a laminitis as you can
have. It's as bad as it gets."
He said he has discussed the situation closely with the
Jacksons, who have stressed that their main concern is for Barbaro
to be pain free.
Several telephone messages left for the Jacksons and Matz were
Richardson said Barbaro's injured right hind leg was healing
well, but because a horse has to be evenly balanced to carry his
weight, laminitis set in on the other foot. Secretariat, the 1973
Triple Crown, was euthanized due to laminitis in 1989.
"The reason we cut away the hoof wall is because the hoof wall
is not connected" to the bone, he said. "If you had a nail that
was separated from the end you'd pull it off. It's dead tissue
that's in the way of living tissue."
Richardson said it would take several months for the hoof to
grow back, and as long as six months to be completely healed.
"What we're doing on this horse is absolutely unusual, but it's
not unheard of," he said. "It's a devastating problem in horses
that nobody has a solution to."
Barbaro has been fitted with a sling to prevent sudden movements
and allow him to shift his weight from side to side. The main goal
"The sling is on only some of the day, when it's off, he can
lie down," Richardson said. "We are not torturing this horse."
Edgar Prado, the jockey credited with saving Barbaro by quickly
pulling him up in the Preakness, was devastated by the grim
"It's very upsetting," he said. "Barbaro has shown to
everyone what a fighter he is. He showed it on the track and with
all the surgeries he's had. It just goes to show what kind of
courage he has. He's a true champion, and is fighting every step of
"All we can do now is hope and pray. We'll need a miracle, but
maybe it will happen."