In toughest race yet, Barbaro up for fight

Derby winner's surgeon says colt still showing signs of improvement after lengthy procedure

May 24, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- Dean Richardson, the surgeon who is in charge of Barbaro's care after his devastating injury in the Preakness Stakes, said yesterday that the most encouraging thing he has heard is that Barbaro is a winner.

"It encourages me, because we're in a race to heal his fracture and it is the biggest race of his career," Richardson said, as he discussed the long road ahead for Barbaro.

The star 3-year-old, who came into the Preakness undefeated, now resides in the intensive care unit here at the University of Pennsylvania's George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals, after more than four hours of surgery to repair the damage Richardson believes was done by "a single catastrophic misstep."

The pale yellow building situated among others on this campus is a far cry from his barn in its pastoral setting at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. Instead of daily visits to his paddock for grass, Barbaro now has his greens via room service, hand-picked by staff volunteers and delivered to his 14-by-14-foot stall.

"He won't leave here until he's a happy, walking horse who will be comfortable," Richardson said. "He won't leave until we're good and ready for him to leave -- at least a few months, because he won't be out of the woods until he heals. It will be a few months before we know if this can heal."

Yesterday, Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, visited for the second day in a row. Roy brought him carrots, and Gretchen brought mints.

"He liked them," Roy Jackson said.

And the Jacksons liked that he "seemed to be doing fine," but Richardson again stressed "many things" can still go wrong.

If Barbaro continues to show the improvement he has over the past two days, the next big hurdle could come early next week. That's when Richardson thinks Barbaro will have the first of "regular" cast changes, necessary for assessing the developments in his leg and to make sure the cast is a snug fit.

"We will try to change the cast with him partially suspended and partially sedated," Richardson said. "If he takes exception to that, then we would have to put him completely to sleep and in that case, he would have to go through the swimming pool procedure when he wakes up and then we'd have to try again to get him back on his feet."

While the cast is off, Richardson said, X-rays of the injury will be taken to determine how the bones are healing.

To this point, Barbaro has been the model patient. Sunday, he came out of the initial four-plus hours of surgery to repair his right rear leg, broken in three places shortly after leaving the starting gate at Pimlico Race Course, in impressive fashion, trotting into his stall after recovery and hopping up and down.

Yesterday morning, he further amazed the hospital staff, by scratching his left ear with his left foot. What was so amazing about that was that to do it, he had to balance his weight on three legs, including his rear right leg -- which is now held together by a lengthy metal plate, 27 screws (a count Richardson corrected from 24) and a cast.

"He also waved his left hind leg at me," Richardson said, making light of nearly being kicked. "Every day he experiences without complications, the risk diminishes."

Richardson said Barbaro is "walking very well on the limb" and noted his temperature, pulse, respiration, attitude and appetite are "absolutely normal." He said those signs and other "objective signals," including the brightness of his eyes, will be watched to determine the horse's progress.

"The fact he continues to demonstrate what an elite athlete he is, the fact that he is dead fit, gives him an advantage," Richardson said. "If in two weeks I'm saying the same things I'm saying now, I'll be happy. I'll be happier."

Yesterday evening, for the final update of the day, Richardson said simply, "Barbaro is doing very well and is progressing normally."

Dr. Corrine Sweeney, associate dean at the center, smiled over the bland report.

"With a horse with this kind of injury," she said, "that's the best news you can get. Every day you want to report, boring day, boring day. It's exactly what he needs."

NOTES -- Fans continue to express their love for Barbaro. Flowers, cards, e-mails, carrots and apples continue to arrive. Richardson, laughing, said the e-mails are something of a worry. "We don't have a keyboard in his stall yet, so I don't know how that is going to work out." One fan made a "very generous" anonymous donation to launch the Barbaro Fund to help the hospital center, not just Barbaro, which pleased the Jacksons, as it will honor the horse and "provide a lasting resource to help care for animals." The New Bolton Center and Churchill Downs are giving racing fans the opportunity to send greetings to Barbaro. Fans can send messages to New Bolton Center's Web site message board at www.vet.upenn.edu/barbaro/. Messages to Churchill Downs can be sent to the e-mail address GetWellBarbaro@kyderby.com.smm2me@aol.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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