ON THE FIRST Saturday of last May, Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby by a disdainful 6 1/2 lengths over a field of overmatched pursuers. His performance infused racing with even more than the customary Triple Crown buzz, because Barbaro, a tall, strapping, unbeaten 3-year-old with a seemingly endless supply of speed and stamina, seemed so likely to carve a place in thoroughbred history.
He has done just that. It is not for his record that he will be remembered most fondly, though, but rather for his courage. At 10:30 on Monday morning, far from the warm bluegrass afternoon of his greatest victory, Barbaro was euthanized at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, the suburban Philadelphia animal hospital that had been his home since he broke down in the opening strides of the Preakness last May 20.
Barbaro died not from the horrific collection of shattered bones he suffered at Pimlico, but from maladies that afflicted him during his recovery, including laminitis in his left rear hoof and an abscess in the originally injured right rear hoof. He underwent risky surgery last Saturday that led to the onset of laminitis in both front hooves, the result of bearing his entire weight. Barbaro's surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, and his owners, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, had said since May that they would not let him suffer. "He has been an exceptionally quiet, calm and relaxed horse," said Richardson. "[Sunday] night was the first night, ever, that he was clearly distressed by his condition.... We meant what we said, if we couldn't control his discomfort, we wouldn't go on."
For all of his tragically unfulfilled greatness, Barbaro's fight for survival transcended anything he—or any horse in recent history—had done on the track. His struggle touched a nerve; flowers, signs and gifts have flooded New Bolton since May and Internet message boards have hummed with emotional homages. Racehorses and their fans—separated lately by simulcasting and trackside slot machine parlors—were brought back together by Barbaro's battle.
At the Breeders Cup in November, Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, smiled as he told how the horse had finally been taken outside at New Bolton and that he enjoyed the fall sunshine. In early January, Richardson said Barbaro might be moved to Kentucky, where he could be bred to mares and carry on his bloodlines. His legacy won't be so tangible, but it will be no less enduring.