Barbaro Gift – his impact on horse racing

Barbaro leaving Churchill Downs backside for the Preakness Stakes

The Barbaro Gift

We got lots of questions last weekend with all the Kentucky Derby prep races. How do I get 2012 Kentucky Derby tickets? Can I join Kentucky Derby Tours? What kind of Kentucky Derby travel package do you have? Is the 2012 Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky? Is the 2012 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs? Is Union Rags going to win the 2012 Kentucky Derby? Where did I hear about trainer Michael Matz before?

With the last question, our thoughts went to the 2006 Kentucky Derby and when Barbaro won. His trainer, Michael Matz was already a real life hero. Barbaro’s performance captured the hearts and imaginations of racing fans, trainers and the media. Kentucky Derby Tours had heard that Barbaro would win the Kentucky Derby from 5 time Horse of the year trainer, Carl Hanford. All week Carl Handford, trainer of Kelso, said he was sure that Barbaro would win the Kentucky Derby. When the trainer of Kelso, 5 time Horse of the year says something, you listen.

Then came tragedy as many of us watched in person or on TV when Barbaro suffered a breakdown just after the start of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. Barbaro was vanned to the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania where he received state of the art treatment. We all hoped that he could one day become a stallion and his babies would let us see a little bit of him again.

Immediately, there was a flood of public interest in Barbaro’s condition, and the Preakness tragedy was a major national story for news agencies that normally only give horse racing the bare bones news coverage. When Dr. Dean Richardson, Barbaro’s surgeon conducted a press conference after the first surgery, nearly 100 media members were present.

Racing fans, Barbaro fans and a concerned public talked about Barbaro’s recovery for months. It was a topic that the public at large discussed – he had won the hearts of America. After eight months and a series of setbacks, Barbaro’s condition turned for the worse. Sadly, the development of acute laminitis in his unbroken left hind leg in July ultimately led to the colt’s death. After consulting with Barbaro’s doctor, Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at Penn’s veterinary school, breeders/owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson decided to humanely euthanize Barbaro on January 29, 2007.

A most intriguing thing about Barbaro is his impact on the thoroughbred horse racing industry since his tragic breakdown. Off the race track, Barbaro became more inspirational than he ever could have become by winning races.

The Jacksons were amazed and humbled by the tremendous outpouring of get-well cards and gifts that flooded the New Bolton Center and packed their mailbox. The couple was also stunned by the scope and longevity of Barbaro’s impact.

Since his breakdown, California has made installation of all-weather surfaces mandatory and many tracks across the US are following suit.