Barbaro euthanized Monday morning
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 good days."
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.
• May 6: Wins Kentucky Derby by 6½ lengths. It is Barbaro's sixth win in six career starts.
• May 20: Fractures right hind leg in three places during early part of Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Later that night, Barbaro is taken to New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, Pa., where a frantic battle ensues to save his life.
• May 21: Barbaro has surgery to insert a titanium plate and 27 screws to repair the fracture. Dr. Dean Richardson, New Bolton's chief of surgery, leads the operation team and calls Barbaro's survival chances a "coin toss."
• May 27: Fitted with special three-part, glue-on horseshoe for left hind hoof, helping reduce risk of laminitis.
• June 13: Placed under general anesthesia to have cast changed for first time; Richardson says "his leg looks excellent.''
• July 8: Develops "potentially serious" complications to injured leg; undergoes surgery to treat new infection in leg; Cast replaced, this time with a longer one that provides additional support; doctors replace plate and many of the screws. "I think we're going to have some tough days ahead. I'm being realistic about it," Richardson said.
• July 13: Richardson discloses colt has laminitis, a painful and often fatal disease; vets remove 80 percent of left hind hoof to treat the condition; chances of survival termed "poor" by Richardson.
• Aug. 8: Barbaro gets a new cast. "His left hind hoof continues to show signs of regrowth and looks healthy," Richardson said. A day later, after nearly three months in his ICU stall, Barbaro begins 15 to 20-minutes outings to grassy areas adjacent to the unit to hand graze, enjoy fresh air and sunshine.
• Sept. 26: Barbaro's left hind hoof is reportedly regrowing. "It has to grow at least three times that, which could take more than six months," Richardson said.
• Nov. 6: Cast on Barbaro's right hind leg is removed.
• Dec. 13: Doctors consider releasing Barbaro from New Bolton. "In my mind's eye, he can leave in the not so distant future," Richardson said.
• Jan. 2: Barbaro's right hind leg keeps getting stronger and Richardson believes the colt should eventually be healthy enough to live a comfortable, happy life.
• Jan. 9: After experiencing discomfort in his left hind foot, separation is found in the hoof. A cast which had been applied to the leg is removed.
• Jan. 18: Barbaro is reportedly improving.
• Jan. 24: Barbaro's left-foot cast was replaced and he received a custom-made plastic and steel brace on his right hind leg. Richardson said doctors were pleased with the progress
• Jan. 26: The cast on the right leg is removed. "He's got a lot of issues, and not any of them is bad enough to say goodbye. But put together it's not a good day for Barbaro," owner Roy Jackson said.
• Jan. 27: Surgery performed to insert two steel pins in a bone to eliminate all weight bearing on the ailing right foot. The procedure is risky because it transfers more weight to the leg. If the bone were to break again, Richardson said: "I think we'll quit.
• Jan. 29: Barbaro euthanized.
Information from The Associated Press is included
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 said.
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 grieving fans.
The scene seemed to mimic months earlier when Barbaro became America's No. 1 patient after he first suffered his catastrophic injuries.
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 rear foot.
"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 recover.
"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.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press