Garry Jones, File
May 12, 2015

Roy and Gretchen Jackson are heading back to the Preakness as owners for the first time since Barbaro's fateful trip to Pimlico nine years ago.

They're heading to Baltimore with their latest entry, Divining Rod.

Barbaro captured a nation's attention after winning the Kentucky Derby when he tragically broke down at the start of the second Triple Crown race and bravely fought to recover from the devastating leg injury. Barbaro was euthanized eight months later and people still remind the couple of how much the fallen champion meant to them.

''It's hard to explain how much interest is there nine years later,'' Roy Jackson said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''There are still a lot of people who loved him and follow the whole thing.

''You sort of have two choices: you can sit and dwell on it, and that really doesn't accomplish anything. We just chose to move on and go on to new things. We still think about him.''

Divining Rod is the latest example of how the Jacksons have moved forward. The colt enters Saturday's 140th Preakness with two wins in five starts including the Coolmore Lexington on April 11 at Keeneland.

American Pharoah is the likely favorite after his Derby victory nearly two weeks ago, but Divining Rod could be the sentimental choice because the Jacksons owned the beloved Barbaro. They're certainly prepared for the attention.

''I don't expect too many hopes to be pinned on Divining Rod, but it certainly brings the Barbaro situation up,'' Roy Jackson said. ''He's a different horse and a different kind of horse. Some people probably have interest - not because he's related to Barbaro or anything, but because of ownership.''

The Jacksons' Lael Stables in Pennsylvania has produced eight graded stakes winners since Barbaro including Divining Rod, whose record includes a second and two thirds.

The son of Tapit by Precious Kitten became Derby eligible following his three-length victory in the Grade 3 Lexington, though he would have needed many defections to make the 20-horse field.

It also would've meant returning in three weeks for Divining Rod, a turnaround neither the owners nor trainer Arnaud Delacour were inclined to try when they believed he'd be much better with more rest.

Jackson noted the path taken by Lael Stables product Showing Up, who finished sixth to Barbaro in the Derby after winning the Lexington. Encouraged by his performance in horse racing's signature event that Barbaro won by 6 1/2 lengths, Showing Up fared much better in subsequent stakes races after longer breaks with four wins in his final six starts.

Divining Rod's preparation at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, suggests that he has recharged well enough to take his shot in the 1 3/16 mile race for 3-year-olds.

''It's so much better to have more time between races, so we never really thought about (the Derby) much,'' Roy Jackson said. ''It doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a young horse.

''He's still developing, and if you look at the whole picture long term I think it's best for the horse to do what we've done.''

How the Jacksons raised Barbaro into a Derby champion and their thoughtful care throughout a heart-wrenching series of surgeries after his injury is noted in the continued outpouring of warm wishes from horse lovers and people outside of the sport. Churchill Downs even honored Barbaro in 2009 with a statue outside the main entrance, atop the horse's remains buried there.

Jackson estimates that ''three or four years'' have passed since his last visit to the famous track in Louisville, Kentucky, where Barbaro achieved greatness. The couple's absence from the Preakness has been easier to track, one determined by having the right horse.

Divining Rod's presence symbolizes the reward in looking ahead, something his owner plans to point whenever possible this week.

''We've put all that behind us and can't wait to see what Divining Rod can do,'' Roy Jackson said. ''We hope he'll be competitive, but he deserves to be in the race and given a chance. We hope he has a good trip and doesn't get boxed in and just has a chance to run his race.''

You May Like