Monday, January 29, 2007

The Standing Derby Winner Is Dead. Shit.

Barbaro was euthanized this morning, ending the colt's 8 month struggle to recover from a shattered leg injury sustained in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. Prior to that he was 6 for 6, finishing 1st in every race that he finished and becoming only the 6th undefeated horse in 132 years to win the Kentucky Derby (Smarty Jones 2004, Seattle Slew 1977, Majestic Prince 1969, Morvich 1922, Regret 1915). His 6.5 length margin of victory in The Derby was the largest since 1948 when eventual Triple Crown winner Assault won by 8, and famously Barbaro was the first horse since 1956 to win The Derby on 5 or more weeks rest. So a pretty special horse as Derby winners go, even before his tragic cum heartwarming cum tragic story became worldwide news with a massive mainstream following.

Lots more news will come out today I'm sure, but I think that this may be the first time in history that the standing Derby winner has passed away.

Derby 132: Barbaro's finest moment

The whole thing sucks, especially since he was until the other day doing very well and had battled so much. One good thing that came out of the whole ordeal I suppose is a renewed interest in the health of retired thoroughbreds, as well as the creation of the "Barbaro Fund" to support and expand the Widener Large Animal Hospital that treated Barbaro - so long term there will be more and better support for many more other horses who don't happen to be world famous Derby winners.

He wasn't my favorite horse ever. In fact, I didn't believe in him until after his amazing Derby win. So I wasn't as emotionally invested in him as I have been with some other horses that I believed in before they did great things (Silver Charm & Smarty Jones come to mind). But I remember being very emotional after watching him break down, same as I am anytime I see a horse break down in any race, and like everyone else I was emotionally invested in his recovery. Most sad is that after so many surgeries and so much time passed, it seemed more and more of a given that he was out of the woods and was in fact going to make it. At least his suffering is over.

In retrospect I feel pretty fortunate to have been at the Derby this past year and to have seen Barbaro up close and personal on his biggest day.

Barbaro walking the paddock before Derby 132

Barbaro walks past us on his way from the paddock
to the track before the Derby

My thoughts go out to the Jacksons, who did everything they could to save the horse when they very well could have had him put down soon after this injury. Then they dealt with all the haters who said that they were only trying to save him so that one day he could breed and they could make millions, when in fact they are well-regarded as "good people" in the horse industry and already have millions. What an emotional roller coaster they have been through, and I am sure that they are completely devastated. Ditto for the families of Michael Matz (trainer) and Edgar Prado (jockey).

Last month the Maryland Jockey Club renamed the Sir Barton Stakes after Barbaro, so this spring the first Barbaro Stakes will be contested. I honestly have mixed feelings about this. The race is one of the 5 biggest at Pimlico each year, and wiping Sir Barton's name off the race forever seems a bit disrespectful. Sir Barton was no joke - he was the very first horse to win the Triple Crown (Derby, Preakness, Belmont) in 1919. If they wanted to name a race after Barbaro they could have chosen one of many others that wasn't already named after such an important figure in racing history. With all of their financial problems, and the prospect of Pimlico going bankrupt and being shut down, the move seems to smack a bit of an attempt to capture some of the Barbaro zeitgeist in an effort to get some much needed exposure and thus dollars into the coffers. Again, I don't think there is anything wrong with naming a stakes race after Barbaro - it happens all the time, surely seems appropriate, and is a nice gesture by the authority who controls the track where the his horrible injury occurred - but doing so at Sir Barton's expense seems a little bittersweet to me.

Anyhow, it is certainly a sad day for racing.

RIP Barbaro.

***Update, 10 p.m.***

FYI- If you are new to this story, not particularly interested or knowledgeable about the horse racing aspect of it, or jaded about it because of the media circus that it eventually became which you felt was being jammed down your throat by everyone from Jeremy Schaap to Matt Lauer, these are the two major reasons that Barbaro was a major story before it morphed into the general media circus that it turned into:

1) Before the Derby Barbaro was an impressive 5 for 5 but had alot of "ifs" that horse people were skeptical about, myself included (competition and especially the 5 week layoff - hadn't happened in 50 years and it was assumed that is couldn't be done in modern times). The way he romped in the Derby despite the long layoff, and over a talented field of horses too (it wasn't one of those year's where the crop of horses just wasn't very good), got alot of people fired up that he might in fact finally be the next great "Superhorse" that racing is so desperately awaiting to come along and win the Triple Crown (we are currently in the longest stretch ever without a Triple Crown winner - Affirmed 1978- and this is the first time in history that there is not a living Triple Crown winner) that he really captured alot of people's attention coming out of the Derby (horse racing fans that is). Combine this with the fact that the general sporting public only knows the name of 1 horse on Preakness Day (the Derby winner), and literally all eyes were on him not only to win the Preakness but to do great things in the Belmont. Alot of people believed that he could do what so many have come so close to doing but failed - win a Triple Crown, that alot of people became very emotionally invested in him by the time Preakness Day rolled around, and you probably know the rest of the story from there.

2) The thing that was remarkable about his surgery and comeback is the fact that he is really the first horse to survive to that point - most every horse that has ever had a similar injury was euthanized within 24 hours of said injury, mainly because of ruptured blood vessels in the leg which make it impossible to save the horse because the blood supply to the leg is disrupted. So that was the other thing, that the owners tried to save him and that he went through this surgery and 22 pins and plates in his leg and attempted recovery that no one else had really tried because the horse's leg had no chance to survive. So he was really in uncharted territory, and that is where the public attention was really grabbed and the whole heroic narrative took place in the mass media not just the horse racing world.


moin said...

Part of me says that sucked, Barbaro looked dominant in the Derby and we could have had another great horse.

The other part of me laughs at those people who write letters and post on message boards their well-wishes to Barbaro, praising him for simultaneously serving as an inspiration to the nation, fighting the war on terrorism, and being on the forefront of finding a cure for cancer.

So it's a weird place for me.

Sucks for the Jacksons though, no doubt. I hope they were smart enough to umm.. farm some material for future sire fees. Is that possible.

Kanu said...


Yes, I know what you mean - there was a bit of a cheesy factor once the story became such a social phenomenon, but at the end of the day it was a compelling, if at times overexposed, story.

Yeah, it really would have been special to witness a year-long rivalry emerge between Barbaro and Bernardini specifically.

Lastly, that is not legal - artificial insemination is not allowed with thoroughbreds: a mare must be "covered" naturally - and there are people who actually assist in the process and must be witnesses to it.

Sorry about your boys on Saturday. Also, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on R9. It looks like the Milan thing is breaking down (for the time being) over money. As a RM fan, do you want him to stay or leave?

moin said...

I did not know that about studding. Well, studding was never what it's cracked up to be anyways.

My boys? They are going through transitional pains, what can I say? When you get a team that hasn't been balanced, and you try to balance it, it's not gonna be pretty for a while.

As for Ronaldo, he should go, for the sake of his career. He's burned his bridge with the current people running RM. And to be honest, he hasn't exactly done himself any favours with quotes along the lines of: "I don't run, I score goals." His only chance to revive his career is to move because he'll never produce at RM due to circumstances. So it's a good move for every party, even Milan, as they have struggled to score in Serie A (tied for 9th in goals scored, I guess Sheva was pretty good eh?).

And it is a matter of... well, the new regime getting rid of the remnants old regime. Zidane retired, Figo was pushed out, Beckham is leaving, Ronaldo is being pushed out, the hand-picked long-term replacement for RC is already in place (Marcelo), now we just need to get rid of Raul (even ridiculously loyal Madristas are turning on him now). Though, I'm kind of disappointed at how raw a deal Beckham got by some RM fans. He's still the best passer on the team, and is, when called upon, one of the most dedicated and hard working players on the team. You can build a championship squad with marginal talent that tries hard (Karanka, Sanchis, Ivan Campo, Savio, Morientes, Makalele, etc). In other words, he wasn't what was wrong with RM, not by a long shot. I also believe he'll surprise some people here in America who believe he's past it.

Now that you got me on a rant, here's a question for ya. Where did people get the idea that Beckham had a bad World Cup? Sure he didn't light it up, but he was at least England's 2nd or 3rd best player during the tourney right? He did win 2 games for England completely by himself. If it wasn't for him, England would have lost in the Round of 16 to Ecuador (and would have deserved it). Somehow, people came out of the Cup thinking Aaron Lennon had an amazing Cup, but how many matches did he win? How many goals did he create?

It's the same look! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

moin said...

Oh, by the way, to answer your question: no, you can't beat Bolton, they are coming on like a bat out of hell, just give it up. :p

All kidding aside, what's going on with Arsenal's back line? I don't recall many matches where they actually scored first (along this line, not many blank sheets either). What's missing? A big, strong, physical presence in the middle to bump people off the ball a la Sol or Vieira? Or are the CBs too slow and are constantly beaten by dribbling? I don't think I've ever seen a team as talented leaking goals at the back (ya know, save RM the last 3 years or so).

But hey! Two out of three ain't bad.

DC Trojan said...

Hmmm. I didn't and don't get the whole Barbaro thing, but this post gave me some insight about why people did.

Kanu said...


Yeah, I rambled on here for a while in response to your comment and then just threw it upstairs under ***Update***


I would say that it is mostly experience. You can't remember anything like it because for years it was the famous back 4, then in 2002 Lauren, Adams, Sol, and Ash Cole, then in the 2004 "Invincibles" team it was was Lauren, Sol, Toure, and Ash Cole.

Now where there was once experience there is youth and inexperience: Toure (age 25) is the most experinced and best, a rock at the back, but Gallas has been hurt for a few months, Lauren wrecked his knee over a year ago and is now gone, Sol is gone, and Ash is gone.

Now you have:

Senderos, only 20: pretty good but still prone to the occasional fuckup

Djourou, 20, good as well but even less experience than Senderos

Eboue, some experience but still only 23: great going forward but not at all a good defender (and the gamesmanship is frankly embarrassing)

Hoyte, 22. Promising but again, young and inexperienced

Clichy, 21. Talented. Fast, great going forward. Not bad defensively, but not Winterburn, Dixon, or Ash Cole either

Traore, only 17, and has only played in Carling Cup, but is currently Clichy's backup at LB until Gallas returns

So where once the back 4 was always full of experience & poise, which tend not to leak goals (unless due to injuries Cygan had to play - sorry, couldn't resist), now it is incredibly young and inexperienced, which tends to leak goals.

Arsene said it best just the other day when he said about the youth in the back:

"You need the strength to stand up because you know that when you put them in the team, they will make mistakes and you will get hammered. You can only pay for their education with points that you lose. Tony Adams at 16 made mistakes. At 30, he hardly made any."

I think therein lies the answer. Gallas returning to fitness will surely help, and longer term all of the kids will fill out, add a bit of weight, and be better at dealing with the physical aspect of defending (Senderos especially could become a physical presence over time, he is already very good in the air).

It's kind of like with Cesc, you watch and sometimes you forget how unbelievably young he is ("he's only 19? FUCK!" is I think how you termed it the other day). I mean shit, Toure seems like the old man in the group but he is only 25 - his best days are still ahead of him.