- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

After a “very complicated” seven-hour operation to repair “life-threatening” and “catastrophic” fractures to the right rear leg of Barbaro yesterday, the chief surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center for Large Animals was cautiously optimistic the colt’s life could be saved.

Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner, was injured early in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course. He was taken to Pennsylvania late Saturday night, and his ankle was operated on by Dr. Dean Richardson.

Even though Barbaro was standing in his recovering stall last night, he is not out of danger yet.

“To be brutally honest, there is still enough chance for things to go bad. It’s still a coin toss [for survival] even after things going well today,” Richardson said following the surgery, which included inserting 23 screws into the damaged ankle.

Still, Richardson said the horse “practically jogged back to the stall” and “is extremely comfortable in the leg.”

A series of radiographs upon Barbaro’s arrival at New Bolton on Saturday night revealed fractures of the cannon (akin to a human’s shin bone), sesamoid and long pastern bones. The ankle joint also was dislocated.

Before the surgery, Richardson said the injury was one of the most severe he had seen in a race horse.

“I’ve never seen this exact fracture, and I never tackled one before; it’s about as bad as it could be,” he said. “You don’t see this severe injury frequently because the fact is most horses that suffer this typically are put down on the race track. This is rare.”

There is much riding on Barbaro’s survival. If he can serve as a stallion upon recovery, his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, could command several million dollars for his rights.

The goal of the surgery was to fuse the joint in the ankle so it could bear weight. Once out of surgery, Barbaro was placed in a recovery pool so he will not damage the leg when he wakes up.

“Right now, he seems pretty good, and the idea is to watch him day by day,” Richardson said. “The plan will be to see how he wears the cast, and then a decision in seven to 10 days will be made to change his cast.”

Trainer Michael Matz was in the operating room for part of the surgery.

“I feel much more relieved now than I was loading him into the ambulance to come up here,” he said. “It was an unknown area we were going in. I feel good that every effort has been made to save his life, and hopefully he has a chance to be a stallion.”

Richardson said Barbaro will remain at New Bolton for a minimum of several weeks.

“He isn’t healed yet — all we’ve done is put the bones in position where, over time, the joint fuses,” he said. “We did everything we could technically to promote fusion of the joint. It takes months for it to heal.”

Richardson credited Prado and the team of doctors that immediately attended to Barbaro for placing a splint on the injured leg to prevent further damage, such as the bone breaking through the skin.

Barbaro, the overwhelming favorite in the Preakness, broke through the gate before the race started but was put back in the gate after an examination. Matz said he doubts there was a connection between the gate incident and the injury.

After starting the race fine, a misstep less than a quarter-mile into the race — Prado and Brother Derek jockey Alex Solis both said they heard a cracking or popping sound — ended Barbaro’s career. Prado steered his way out of the racing pack and finally was able to slow down the energetic colt just past the finish line.

Barbaro’s on-track injury is the first high-profile breakdown since Charismatic in the 1999 Belmont Stakes. Surgery saved his life, and he is now a stallion in Japan. In 2001, the filly Exogenous flipped head over heels during the Breeders’ Cup Distaff post parade and eventually died because of a brain injury.

The most famous racing tragedies came in 1975, when the great Ruffian broke down in a match race against Foolish Pleasure (she had surgery and was later put down), and 1990, when Go For Wand broke down in the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and was euthanized.

Barbaro’s injury was yet another blow to the sport. Casual observers watch only a few races each year, and what they saw Saturday was the dark side of horse racing.

“I’m a 100 percent fan of racing — I love the game, and if it weren’t for racing, I don’t know where I’d be,” trainer Nick Zito said. “It’s a sad day for racing. Once again, it casts a shadow on the game. That’s the last thing racing needs. … [But] it’s part of our business.”

Said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin: “The highs and lows of this game are extreme. I guess they don’t get any more extreme than winning the Derby and then having something like that happen.”

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