Updated on 09/18/2011 12:04AM

Barbaro 50-50 after surgery

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Sabina Louise Pierce/Univ. of Pennsylvania
After surgery, Barbaro "practically jogged" to his climate-controlled stall here in hospital's intensive care unit.

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. - Even after performing successful surgery to stabilize Barbaro's right hind ankle on Sunday, doctors gave the Kentucky Derby winner a 50-50 chance to survive the catastrophic injuries he suffered in Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

Dr. Dean Richardson, the chief of surgery at the George Widener Hospital for Large Animals on the campus of the New Bolton Center, put in a 16-hole locking compression plate and 23 screws into Barbaro's right hind leg, which sustained three major fractures. The goal of the surgery was to fuse the fetlock, or ankle joint, together, so that Barbaro can bear some weight and eventually be a serviceable stallion. His racing career is over.

"All we've done is put the bones in a position where, over time, we hope the joint fuses," Richardson said. "We do everything technically possible to promote that fusion of the joint, but it takes months to fuse a joint."

Though the operation, which took more than six hours including pre- and post-operative care, went well, Richardson said Barbaro is far from out of the woods.

"To be brutally honest, there's still enough chance for things going bad that he's still a coin toss even after everything went well," Richardson said. "I'm not claiming this horse is cured."

Richardson said Sunday that Barbaro came out of his operation so well that he "practically jogged" back to his stall. Barbaro is recovering in a 14-by-14-foot climate-controlled stall in the intensive care unit of the hospital with nursing care around the clock.

"He will receive whatever it is he needs," Richardson said.

On Monday, Richardson reported that Barbaro continued to come out of the surgery well.

"He's doing all the things a horse should do, including eating and nickering at the mares near him," Richardson said. "While we are optimistic, we remain cautious about his prognosis and are watching for signs of infection at the surgical site, laminitis and other possible aftereffects of the surgery."

Barbaro fractured his cannon bone above the ankle, the sesamoid bone at the back of the ankle, and the long pastern between the ankle and the hoof. Richardson said the long pastern bone was in "20-some pieces." Barbaro was fitted with a cast that goes from just below the hock and encloses his hoof. Richardson said he would re-assess the cast in a week to 10 days to see if it needed to be replaced.

According to Richardson, most horses who suffer this type of injury are euthanized on the racetrack. But because it was Barbaro, a Kentucky Derby winner who is worth in excess of $20 million as a potential stallion, every effort was made to try and save his life.

Richardson said he had never performed this type of surgery before.

The injury is believed to have occurred during the first furlong of the Preakness, in which Barbaro was the 1-2 favorite. Jockey Edgar Prado told part-owner Gretchen Jackson that he heard a pop and immediately pulled the colt up. It is believed that Barbaro simply took a bad step. Veterinarians don't believe that the injury was a result of Barbaro breaking through the starting gate prior to the official start of the race.

On Monday, Prado said, "If I felt something was wrong I would have been the first person to scratch the horse. There was no indication at all that he was any different from the Derby. I still can't believe it.''

Richardson said that when it comes to fractured cannon bones, typically there is evidence of some pre-existing condition. Regarding Barbaro, Richardson said he saw "no evidence of pre-existing injury in the cannon bone.''

Richardson said the two major concerns regarding Barbaro are infection in his injured leg and the development of the often-fatal disease laminitis in the other foot.

"Horses are very vulnerable to laminitis or a problem in their opposite foot,'' Richardson said. "They don't stay comfortable on the [injured] limb. They can develop laminitis in the opposite foot, and that can be a life-threatening problem.''

Richardson was assisted in the procedure by three additional veterinarians - Dr. Steve Zedler, Dr. David Levine, and Dr. Liberty Getman. Also in the room were two anesthesiologists, a nurse anesthetist, and two operating room nurses.

Michael Matz, the trainer of Barbaro, lives only 10 minutes from the hospital where Barbaro was operated on. He was kept up to date via telephone early in the procedure before driving over to see the final stages of the operation.

"I feel much more relieved after I saw him walk to the stall than when I was loading him in the ambulance to come up there, that's for darn sure,'' Matz said. "It was an unknown area we were going in.

I feel much more confident now; at least I feel he has a chance. [Saturday] night I didn't know what was going to go on.''

On the fence posts outside the clinic, there were several signs of encouragement for Barbaro, including one that read "Pray for Barbaro.'' In the reception are of the hospital, a bouquet of roses was addressed to "Barbaro Jackson." Barbaro is owned by Gretchen and Roy Jackson.