There will be two equine heroes at this year's Kentucky Derby: the winner and Barbaro. In fact, the surest bet in Louisville next week is that memories of last year's victor will be omnipresent everywhere one turns.
The performance by Barbaro in last year's Derby was so powerful that it left even hardened observers thinking that a Triple Crown was within the horse's grasp. That, of course was not to be.
The subsequent saga of Barbaro's injury, struggle to recover and eventual demise was an emotional roller coaster ride that touched almost every nerve in a horse racing follower's body. What caused the injury? Could it have been prevented? And what accounted for the incredible degree of national interest in his story?
Amid all the opinions and memories, a few facts shine through -- facts that we pretty much knew to be true before Barbaro, but which he really helped emphasize.
One is that the racing industry cares desperately about its horses. The national obsession with his recovery was in many ways an outgrowth of the immense importance put upon it by those closest to the situation. Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, were always his biggest champions, and their undying love helped show an entire nation how deeply the Thoroughbred affects us. The staff at the New Bolton Center demonstrated its own brand of passion -- one that was shown to be completely emblematic of the full universe of those involved in equine care. And many others in the industry stepped up as well, including the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, which maintained its long standing commitment to the continued development of advances in equine medicine and overall safety. A total in excess of $14 million has been raised and granted by Grayson-Jockey Club, covering more than 200 specific projects.
Last October's Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit -- planned long before Barbaro became a household name -- identified critical issues facing the racing industry and developed key action plans in several areas, including continuing education and examination requirements for all licensees who work with horses; recommendations for improvements in hoof care, shoeing and racing surfaces; and development of a uniform, national injury reporting system. The Jockey Club and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation organized and underwrote the summit, which was hosted in Lexington by the Keeneland Association. It was attended by representatives of virtually every major U.S. racing and equine health organization.
This year we see more and more study of the potential benefits of synthetic racing and training surfaces. And The NTRA Charities - Barbaro Memorial Fund will raise money for equine health and safety research, including research on laminitis, via a series of public events in conjunction with this year's Triple Crown series at racetracks and organizations all across North America.
Horse racing is fueled by many things, and Barbaro helped show us that one of those things is heart.