Journey longer than 1 3/16 miles

Instead of a trip around Pimlico, Barbaro went for a life-saving ride

May 28, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG | JOHN EISENBERG,SUN REPORTER

Glen Kozak had a flashback as he drove north on I-95 with Barbaro in a van attached to his truck, a police escort in front and a television helicopter roaring overhead.

"I felt like O.J. Simpson," said Kozak, director of operations for the Maryland Jockey Club, who drove Barbaro from Pimlico Race Course to the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., after the horse broke his ankle in the Preakness Stakes eight days ago.

Kozak's nationally televised drive was the most widely seen part of an 18-hour saga that began when the horse was injured and ended when Dr. Dean Richardson began life-saving surgery the next day.

Getting Barbaro from the track to the operating room - with a chance to survive - was a perilous process involving track officials, veterinarians, horsemen, hospital staff, and of course, Barbaro.

"Everyone did great, but Barbaro did as much to save himself as we did. He was so calm," said Joe Miller, a member of the MJC staff who was with the horse in the ambulance on the journey from Pimlico to New Bolton.

It all started with a noise as simple as it was devastating.

"I heard a pop," said jockey Edgar Prado, who pulled up Barbaro some 200 yards into the Preakness.

That pop likely was the Kentucky Derby winner's right rear ankle shattering into what one vet called "essentially a bag of crushed ice." Richardson, a preeminent surgeon, would need 27 screws to put the pieces back together.

The job of getting the horse to Richardson began as Pimlico track announcer Dave Rodman informed the record Preakness crowd of 118,402 that "Barbaro has been pulled up." An assortment of horsemen, vets and track officials went to work.

First on the scene

Barbaro's groom, Eduardo Hernandez, reached him first. A Mexico native who works for Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, Hernandez was watching from the winner's circle - near where Barbaro stopped - with the grooms of the other eight Preakness horses.

"The groom sprinted over and Edgar handed the horse right over," Kozak said.

Hernandez, who has been Barbaro's groom since January, tried to soothe him as the other Preakness horses circled the track.

"You need to keep the horse quiet to keep him from jumping around and possibly doing more damage," Kozak said.

Those who reached Barbaro next included Kozak, who had been near the winner's circle; Sharon Greenberg, a pony "outrider" on horseback; and Peter Brette, Matz's assistant. They positioned Greenberg's horse so it blocked Barbaro's view of the Preakness finish; they were concerned he would get overly excited seeing other horses running.

"Eduardo covered his eyes to keep him from looking and maybe starting to jump," Brette recalled. "I told Eduardo to uncover his eyes. As long as we blocked his view, we were fine."

The horses crossed the finish line and ran past Barbaro without incident, and moments later, the track's equine ambulance pulled up. Miller, a former assistant to Maryland trainer Richard Delp, was behind the wheel; he now works for the track, driving the ambulance. Several other MJC maintenance staff members were in the truck along with Dr. David Zipf, Maryland's state veterinarian. Two people were standing on the running board: Dr. Dan Dreyfuss, a vet, and Pimlico track superintendent Jamie Richardson.

`We knew it was bad'

Miller had been in the maintenance office, overlooking the final turn, when the race started. When Barbaro pulled up, he dashed to the ambulance, drove onto the track and followed the Preakness horses through the stretch. Along the way, he picked up Zipf, Richardson and Dreyfuss.

They all jumped out of (or off of) the ambulance and ran to Barbaro, and "instantly, we knew it was bad," Richardson said. He grabbed a supporting splint out of the ambulance and wrapped it around the ankle as Zipf supervised.

Dreyfuss, who works in a private vet practice, communicated by radio with his partner, Dr. Nick Meittinis, who was in the stands. "I said, `Nick, it looks bad, real bad,'" Dreyfuss said.

The maintenance staff rolled out a long, green mesh screen that is used to keep fans from watching when a horse is euthanized on the track. It was an ominous sign.

"I thought he might be put down," Miller said. "It's a bad sign when we get the screen out."

But that was never discussed, Richardson said. "We just wanted to minimize the trauma of the people watching," he said.

As Hernandez, Miller and Richardson loaded Barbaro into the ambulance, the horse kicked Richardson in the thigh and leg.

"He got me twice," Richardson said. "I don't hold it against him. He was in shock and in pain. I sort of knew I was going to get it. I could have avoided it, but we had to get him loaded."

Aid from digital X-rays

The ambulance drove to the stakes barn on the backside. Barbaro was led backward out of the ambulance and walked to the stall, hopping on three legs as he instinctively avoided putting weight on the ankle.

"The horse was so smart," Dreyfuss said.

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