Industry displayed its love for horses

Barbaro ordeal elicits compassion

Horse racing

January 31, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- Those immune to Barbaro's mystique looked on in disbelief for the past eight months at the emotion and money being spent on a horse and might well have asked the question Barbaro's surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, asked shortly after Barbaro was euthanized Monday.

"Was it worth it?"

Richardson's answer was that it was, because the Kentucky Derby winner "had many happy days." Yesterday, others not as close to Barbaro had the same positive answer.

Barbaro's legacy has a chance to be long-lasting.

At Pimlico Race Course, Lou Raffetto, the president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said Barbaro's life after breaking down in the Preakness showed people "the industry is capable of an incredible amount of compassion."

Alex Waldrop, chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said Barbaro allowed the horse industry to demonstrate its love for the thoroughbred and to show how owners, trainers, veterinarians and fans are touched by the horses.

"I don't know how you quantify that," he said. "It may translate to more business, but certainly to more respect for the industry. Barbaro delivered the message that we care about the health and safety of our horses, and that's an important message."

And co-owner Roy Jackson said Monday that Barbaro did amazing things. Barbaro brought extensive recognition to veterinary medicine and - thanks to the way his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, used their platform - focused attention on problems at the racetrack, such as the plight of backstretch workers and equine health, and to the practice of slaughtering horses for food for export to foreign countries. (Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that the two slaughtering facilities in Texas were illegal.)

Yesterday, Churchill Downs announced a Barbaro scholarship that will help pay the bills for veterinary students.

"I think we've been overwhelmed by all the positives of the experience," Roy Jackson said in Monday's news conference. "There wasn't a real negative [until the end]. Veterinary medicine learned a great deal about this kind of case. The general public was educated. We were able to help with the anti-slaughter bill and the backstretch people at the racetracks.

"We hope some of these issues will continue to be studied and advanced."

From the moment Barbaro stayed on his feet after shattering his right rear leg early in the Preakness on May 20, he was an odds-beater.

"If he had been put down that day when he was injured at Pimlico," Raffetto said, "his struggle and what he showed us, so many different times, about overcoming the odds would never have happened.

"People face tough odds every day, and sometimes we can't beat them. But Barbaro has been a testimony not only to a great horse but to what we look for in everyday life - the ability to face up to the challenge.

"If he had died at the track, people would have been turned off, and there would never have been the opportunity for so many positives to happen. ... The fact he fought so valiantly ... is what makes the legend."

Barbaro lost his battle Monday morning, after laminitis spread to his previously unaffected front legs. His body has since been returned to the Jacksons, who are working out plans for the horse's burial.

Yesterday, the Kentucky Derby Museum offered Barbaro a grave site in a garden at the museum, which is at Churchill Downs, alongside four other Derby winners - Sunny's Halo (1983), Carry Back (1961), Swaps (1955) and Brokers Tip (1933).

"We've expressed to [the Jacksons] how honored we'd be to have Barbaro here," Lynn Ashton, executive director of the museum, told the Associated Press. "We feel like we're bringing horses back to be honored."

The Jacksons did not return calls yesterday.

At the New Bolton Center, hospital director Dr. Corinne Sweeney noted a somber tone.

"Today, it is business as usual," she said. "Dean is in surgery. Patients are coming in. But people are sad, and it's fine to acknowledge that."

When Richardson was approached by a reporter from Philadelphia early yesterday morning, he said he missed Barbaro while doing his morning rounds. The reporter said Richardson was then overcome by emotion.

Later, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer : "This morning, 12 seconds ... you miss him. There's a big hole in your life. And you're down to feeling like, you know, like you failed. ... It's still so profoundly disappointing that it's hard not to feel like you've let him down."

Sweeney said: "When we lose any patient, there is some sadness, but to have a horse here for two, four or eight months, that's an affection that is deep."

She also said Barbaro's legacy at New Bolton goes beyond emotion.

"A lot of people learned an awful lot about veterinary medicine, horses, and horse racing," Sweeney said.

"As a veterinarian, what we saw was amazing. People were eager to learn about veterinary medicine and the level of care available. And that has been reinforced by our colleagues worldwide, by the number of condolences saying how they've benefited by having better-informed clients."

The New Bolton Center is run by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and during Barbaro's eight-month stay, the school received a $13.5 million state grant that will be used to build an isolation and colic unit and a device to get rid of tissue and waste.

Though the grant was in the works for a long time, Sweeney said Barbaro was "the tipping point" to bring it to fruition.

In May, the school established The Barbaro Fund, which has grown to more than $1.2 million and will be used for improvements at the school. It also has started a Laminitis Fund, for research into the affliction that eventually led to Barbaro's death.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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