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.
***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.