05/11/2006 11:00PM

After difficult birth, Barbaro thrived

"He was a cool horse. It never bothered him to be confined to a stall, and that's a pretty neat personality." - Bill Sanborn, who foaled Barbaro

LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro came into the world on the night of April 29, 2003, he needed a little bit of help.

Bill Sanborn foaled the colt, who is by Dynaformer, at Sanborn Chase farm near Nicholasville, Ky., and remembers vividly that his first impression had nothing to do with Derby roses.

"He was just a large colt," Sanborn said.

Barbaro's size was a little surprising. His dam, La Ville Rouge, wasn't all that big herself, and the combination of a big foal and a smallish-to-average-size mare meant that Sanborn and Irvin White, the night watchman and a key assistant at Sanborn Chase, had to roll up their sleeves, each grab a foreleg, and gradually pull the foal out of his dam.

"In a foaling barn, every night is a surprise," Sanborn, 54, said. "This is my 30th straight breeding season, and a mare goes down to foal, I still get a knot in my stomach. You never know what's going to happen. But if the knot ever goes away, I'm going to be in trouble.

"But other than having to pull out the foal from La Ville, that was it," Sanborn added. "We pulled the foaling chart after he won the Derby. It said, 'Difficult foaling, foal had to be assisted.' And after that it said, 'Mare and foal doing fine.' "

That little bit of extra effort put the Sanborn Chase team into the Derby history book.

"We had a group of foals, and he was always different from the rest," recalled White, 38. "I always thought he'd go on to the races and do well, but

I never knew he'd do this!"

Sanborn and his wife, Sandra, ended their lease on the Nicholasville property last year, and Sanborn took a job as general manager of Wimbledon Farm in Lexington. But the team that raised Barbaro is largely intact. White and several other employees moved with him and now work for Wimbledon.

Today, the Sanborn Chase breeding program consists of seven mares that the Sanborns and a few partners board at Wimbledon. Barbaro's dam - still owned by Barbaro's breeders and owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson - is at Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington. She aborted her 2005 foal, but this year she has a March foal, a full brother to Barbaro. She was bred back to Dynaformer on May 5, the day before Barbaro won the Derby.

In the first few seconds after Barbaro was born, Bill Sanborn remembers thinking, "Lotta leg." He liked that about the colt, but he never entertained any Derby dreams.

"You know if you do or don't like a horse," Sanborn said. "Everybody's got their own type of horse they like, and he was sort of mine. But a Derby horse? Gosh, no. No. The day of the Derby, the guys that train 'em don't even know. Nobody knows."

Sanborn liked Barbaro, and so did everyone else who played a part in the colt's early months at Sanborn Chase. Barbaro was at the farm from birth, through weaning, until he left for John Stevens's training center Ocala, Fla., to be broken to a saddle in the fall of 2004. He was one of about 20 foals from that crop.

"The first time I saw him was on a 14-day pregnancy scan on the ultrasound," remembered Keith Richie, who worked with Barbaro in Sanborn Chase's foaling barn. "I say I knew him since he was a follicle."

When Richie, 45, got to work with the colt, he found him "perfect."

"He was so mild-mannered, I could roll him over on his back and scratch his belly or pick out his feet," he said. "He was big, but he wasn't lanky. He was real brawny. And he had the nicest temperament."

That easygoing nature made Barbaro a welcome presence, said Sally Mullis. Mullis, 47, worked with him in the foaling and yearling barns and describes the colt as a model student.

"To me, he was just a nice little bay colt," she said. "He chimed right in and got with program. He was not a troublemaker."

When Barbaro was weaned in the fall of 2003, he joined a group of five or six colts in a pasture. "He was always leader of the pack," recalled White.

But his nature never changed. He seemed to enjoy people, though he disliked the peppermints they often brought.

"I always spent a little more time with him, because he'd stand right there and let you rub on him," White said. "He loved it. But I never could get him to eat a peppermint."

Barbaro, unnamed then and known around the farm as "La Ville" after his dam, had no major mishaps during his time at Sanborn Chase. He once rapped his leg in the pasture and developed a splint - a small but painful bony enlargement - that required him to be stall-bound for two weeks while the farm staff treated him with cold hosing and bandaging.

"He was in a stall that had a mesh door that was specially made with a diamond cut out of it, where a horse could put his head out, for lay-ups," Sanborn said. "Even as a baby, he liked to keep his head out. White took a real liking to this horse, and he moved the horse that was in that stall so he could hang his head out.

"On ESPN on Derby morning, they showed him standing there with his head hanging and that lower lip flapping, and I said, 'There he is.' He was always like that. You'd walk by him, pat him on the head, and say, 'Hey, La Ville, how you doing, boy?' He just liked to watch things. He was a cool horse. It never bothered him to be confined to a stall, and that's a pretty neat personality."

Barbaro was exceptionally large for a late foal, and he grew in startlingly sudden bursts.

"When he hit a growth spurt, they were big growth spurts," Sanborn recalled. "His elbows would stick out. All of a sudden. Then he'd stop growing and develop out, and everything looked fine again."

Because Barbaro was never intended for sale, the Sanborn Chase staff gave him extra time to romp with other colts in his pasture.

"It was nice raising horses for the Jacksons because none of their horses were sales horses," Sanborn said. "We'd run them with the sales horses until it was time to separate the sales horses out, and then we could leave the Jacksons' horses together with other horses. But you'd watch them go out and they're all rearing and jumping on each other, and you think, 'Oh my God, he's going to hit a knee.'

"It makes you worry, but, to me, it's the best way to raise them," he said. "You'll have a lot less stall vices, and vices period, if you can keep them together. Because once you separate them out, you're the only playmate they've got."

In the field, Barbaro had what Sanborn calls "a race mind," a sort of native single-mindedness that might help him become a racehorse. But exactly how good a racehorse could never have been predicted.

"I don't have a lot of expectations out of life," Sanborn said, laughing. "I've seen the weirdest things you've ever seen. Here's what I expect. I expect everybody along the line to take care of them the way we did and give them all a shot. Because you don't know where those good horses are coming from."

Preakness contenders

Horses pointing for the 131st Preakness at Pimlico on May 20.

BarbaroM. MatzE. Prado1st, Ky. Derby
BernardiniT. AlbertraniJ. Castellano1st, Withers
Brother DerekD. HendricksA. Solis4th*, Ky. Derby
Hemingway's KeyN. ZitoJ. Rose8th, Lexington
Like NowK. McLaughlinundecided2nd, Lexington
SweetnorthernsaintM. TrombettaK. Desormeaux7th, Ky. Derby
Possible entrants
Bob and JohnB. BaffertG. Gomez17th, Ky. Derby
Point DeterminedB. BaffertR. Bejarano9th, Ky. Derby

* - Dead heat