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Barbaro euthanized after long ordeal
Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, was euthanized on Monday at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., ending an emotional eight-month odyssey that began when he fractured his right hind leg in the Preakness Stakes.
Barbaro eventually succumbed to the ravages of the crippling hoof disease laminitis, the same disease that felled Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1989. Laminitis often occurs in a previously sound limb when a horse attempts to shift weight to relieve pressure on an opposing, injured limb.
Barbaro developed laminitis in his left hind leg in July, which caused problems with the right hind foot this month, and in recent days Barbaro had begun to develop laminitis in both of his front hooves, Dr. Dean Richardson, the chief of surgery at New Bolton, said at a press conference Monday afternoon. The original fracture in his right hind leg had healed, but subsequent complications felled the gallant colt.
"It's like a deck of cards," Richardson said. "Sometimes with things that tenuous, one thing starts to go, and then others as well. That's what happened.
"We did what we said we would. If we couldn't control his discomfort, we wouldn't go on."
Richardson said Barbaro was "clearly distressed" Sunday night. For the first time since his ordeal, Richardson said, Barbaro would not lie down and rest.
On Monday morning, after conferring with Richardson, owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson made the heart-rending decision to end Barbaro's suffering. According to Richardson, he, the Jacksons, and a resident at New Bolton were with Barbaro when he was put down.
Barbaro was in a sling when he was euthanized. According to Richardson, the colt was first given a "heavy dose of a tranquilizer," then "an overdose of an anesthetic."
"A certain amount of grief is the price you pay for love," Gretchen Jackson said at the Monday afternoon news conference.
Roy Jackson told the Philadelphia Daily News that no decision had yet been made on where Barbaro will be buried. The most likely resting place would be the Jacksons' Pennsylvania farm, which is near New Bolton.
"It's a difficult day," Roy Jackson said at the news conference. "We hope a lot has been learned by this case to help other horses."
Richardson said Barbaro's care taught him things he could apply in the future to horses with similar injuries.
"That's the way science works," he said.
Richardson had repeatedly cautioned that Barbaro's health was in a precarious position, even as the colt appeared to make strides toward a recovery last fall. In recent weeks, however, Barbaro had several setbacks that eventually proved insurmountable.
On Saturday, Barbaro had surgery on his right hind leg because, according to a statement from Richardson, "we could not keep him comfortable on his right hind foot."
Richardson said a deep abscess developed because Barbaro apparently was shifting weight to his right hind to compensate for the "discomfort on the left hind foot." Richardson said it was not laminitis in the right hind, but "potentially just as serious."
The surgery on Saturday placed an external skeleton fixation device on the leg, which required two steel pins to be placed through the right hind cannon bone, Richardson said.
"This results in the horse eliminating all weight-bearing from the foot," Richardson said.
The feared complication from that last-ditch procedure, though, was the laminitis that developed in Barbaro's front hooves.
"He started overloading his front [hooves]," Richardson said.
The surgery on Saturday removed a plastic-and-steel orthotic brace that had been put on three days earlier to help stabilize the right hind leg. At that time, an abscess was drained from the right hind foot, and the cast on his left hind leg was changed.
Although the original fracture in the right hind had healed, the left leg ended up being a longer, more complicated project, and begat the recent complications in the right hind leg and, eventually, both front legs.
Barbaro's condition had regressed earlier in January, but he then had a couple of good weeks before his latest round of maladies.
On Jan. 3, Barbaro had the cast replaced on his left hind leg. And then on Jan. 9, Barbaro had a significant setback. According to a press release from New Bolton, Barbaro "became acutely more uncomfortable on his left hind foot" that evening.
"The foot cast was removed and some new separation of the medial [inside] portion of his foot was found," the release said. As a result, Barbaro needed surgery to remove the damaged tissue.
Barbaro survived far longer than anyone could have expected, considering the extent of the injuries to his right hind leg that he suffered May 20, coupled with the case of laminitis he developed in his left hind in early July.
As a racehorse, Barbaro became the first horse to win the Derby off a break of five weeks or more since Needles 50 years earlier.
Barbaro had an unorthodox campaign last spring that trainer Michael Matz correctly believed would have Barbaro at his peak for the Derby and the Triple Crown.
Barbaro had won the first three races of his career on turf, but then was moved to dirt for the Holy Bull Stakes last Feb. 4. He won that race, in a driving rainstorm, and then was given a two-month break until the Florida Derby on April 1. So, Barbaro entered the Derby with just one race in 13 weeks.
The week of the Derby, no horse trained better than Barbaro. One week before the race, he had a powerful workout for the Derby under exercise rider Peter Brette in which Barbaro was credited with a four-furlong time of 46 seconds, but actually went six furlongs in about 1:12 while traveling effortlessly.
He ran to his works. Barbaro, sent off the second choice in the Derby on May 6, captured the race in a runaway, winning by 6 1/2 lengths under jockey Edgar Prado to remain undefeated after six starts. The overpowering manner of his win gave rise to talk that he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Barbaro was sent off the 1-2 favorite in the Preakness. After being loaded into the gate for the race, he pushed open his stall and jogged about 110 yards down the stretch. He came back to the gate, was reloaded, then was sent on his way in the Preakness.
A furlong into the race, Prado suddenly pulled up Barbaro and eased him toward the outside rail as the rest of the Preakness runners rolled by. It was immediately obvious that Barbaro had suffered a serious fracture to his right hind leg, and he was taken by horse ambulance back to the stakes barn.
Radiographs taken a half-hour later showed that Barbaro had catastrophic injuries to his right hind. He had a fracture in the cannon bone above the fetlock, a fractured pastern bone below the fetlock, and a fractured and dislocated fetlock. Within 90 minutes of the race, Barbaro was being transported to New Bolton.
The next morning, Barbaro underwent extensive surgery, performed by Richardson, to repair his shattered right hind leg. He needed a plate and 27 screws to fuse the lower portion of his leg, and had his leg placed in a cast that ran from his foot to just below his hock.
For the first six weeks, Barbaro appeared to recover in a satisfactory manner. But on July 8, he had the plate and several screws replaced after an infection was detected in the right leg. Within a few days of that surgery, Barbaro developed laminitis in his left hind leg.
After developing laminitis, Barbaro had surgery to remove 80 percent of the hoof on his left rear foot. That foot was placed in a soft cast. Barbaro was placed in a sling for several hours a day to help take pressure off his injured limbs, though he was able to get up on his own power after laying down to rest.
By the fall, Barbaro had recovered to the point where he could be taken outside to graze each day. There even was talk of moving him to a warmer climate, to avoid the usually harsh winters in Pennsylvania.
Barbaro was bred by the Jacksons, who race under the name Lael Stables. Barbaro was by Dynaformer out of the Carson City mare La Ville Rouge. He won 6 of 7 starts and earned $2,302,200.
He was a finalist for champion 3-year-old male of 2006, but lost that title to Bernardini, who won the Preakness. The Jacksons were named co-champion owner for 2006 along with Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stable, which owns Bernardini. The Jacksons, Richardson, and New Bolton received a special Eclipse Award for their perseverance with Barbaro following his initial injury.
One week later, Barbaro was gone.
- additional reporting by Glenye Cain Oakford