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First anniversary of Barbaro's death

January 29, 2008

by Neil Clarkson

Dr Richardson and Barbaro.
Photo: Jennifer Rench

A year ago today, the world's horse lovers were mourning the loss of the mighty Barbaro after a nine-month battle to recover from a catastrophic leg fracture.

The death of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner was international news. He was four years old.

The world's horse community had looked on with interest - and hope - for months as the horse's bones healed. In the end, it was laminitis that forced the decision to euthanize the thoroughbred.

Surgeon Dean Richardson told a press conference on the day of his death that development of laminitis in Barbaro's front legs had literally left him without a good leg to stand on. "Clearly this was a difficult decision to make," he told reporters.

The decision, he said, was based on what his caregivers and owners had said all along: that the horse not be allowed to suffer, and the likelihood of recovery.

"This happened very quickly in the last couple of days and probably the thing that pushed us over the top ... last night ... for the first time ever, he really struggled with what he was doing.

"He did not feel comfortable enough to lie down. He was not comfortable standing up. We had him in and out of [his] sling several times trying to get him down and up. The bottom line is he was a completely different horse," he said.

Barbaro was a force in US racing before he lined up in the 2006 Kentucky Derby. His convincing win had his fans watching hopefully for a clean-sweep of the Triple Crown.

The dream was over within seconds of the start in the Preakness Stakes. His shattered hing leg saw him undergo surgery in which plates and screws were used to reassemble the bone.

Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson had no expectations that their horse would ever race again. What they hoped for was a long and happy retirement for the best racehorse they had ever owned.

Dr Richardson and Barbaro on December 20, 2006.
Photo: Kathy Freeborn
Barbaro's surgical team knew that laminitic complications were a major complication they would probably have to face, and so it proved.

Surgeon Richardson said he knew that if the day came to put Barbaro down it would be very difficult to get through, but added: "It's not the first horse I have cried over."

Barbaro had been a happy horse for the vast majority of the nine months he was under care. "I assure there have been many cases I have had in the past where I know I waited too long. I do not believe that is the case here."

Barbaro's body was cremated. The Jacksons have yet to announce what they intend doing with the ashes. It is likely they will reveal their final resting place today.

The Jacksons will be attending a press conference at Churchill Downs racecourse at 10am (Eastern Standard Time). The general expectation is that Barbaro's ashes will be laid to rest at the famous course, where a monument is also proposed.

Other possibilities discussed over the months include a memorial in the Jacksons' home state of Pennsylvania, or at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The Jacksons were overwhelmed by the messages of support they received during the long, painstaking efforts to save Babaro.

On the day of his death, they, like Richardson, stood up with a message for those people.

"I would like now for all of us to say a prayer for Barbaro, and for all those that have loved him so much," said Gretchen Jackson, who, with her husband, Roy, attended the press conference called after the colt was put down.

"Certainly, great is the price we all pay for love," she said.

"I am sure there are a lot of grieving people. Certainly a lot have contacted me."

"It's a difficult day," Roy Jackson told journalists.

"We hope a lot has been learned from this case that will help a lot of other horses in the future."

The legacy of the racing champion lives on.

There is a substantial fund in his name, backing research into laminitis - a disease that claims many thousands of horses every year.

Artists have been inspired and memorials spoken of. The world does not want to forget Barbaro.

Surgeon Richardson, in the hours after Barbaro's death, perhaps summed up why the horse world was so enamoured by a horse that underwent months of treatment with such good grace.

People appreciated that Babaro was a great athlete, Richardson said.

"People love greatness ... this was the story of his greatness and bravery."



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