05/20/2006 11:00PM

Barbaro in intensive care following lengthy surgery

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Barbaro breaks through the starting gate prior to the start of the Preakness. The Kentucky Derby winner had 23 screws implanted into his injured right hind leg during more than four hours of surgery on Sunday.

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. - Barbaro was in surgery for some seven hours Sunday to repair his severely injured right hind leg, during which the colt had 23 screws and a locking compression plate implanted into the leg.

The surgery, which was performed at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center by Dr. Dean Richardson, the hospital's chief of surgery, actually lasted a little more than four hours, although there also was considerable prep and recovery time. Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who incurred the injury Saturday in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, was taken into surgery shortly after 12:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday and was standing on all four legs in a 14-foot by 14-foot stall in the hospital's intensive care unit as of 9 p.m.

Barbaro has been fitted with a specially made cast that allows the colt to bear weight on every limb. It extends from just below the hock and encloses the hoof.

"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," Dr. Richardson said afterward at a media conference at the hospital.

Dr. Richardson, who led the six-person team that performed the surgery, said Barbaro would wear the cast for about "a week to 10 days," after which the colt will be reevaluated. Dr. Richardson said his most pressing concerns are about whether infection will set in or the colt will develop laminitis.

Barbaro suffered fractures to his cannon bone, sesamoids, and long pastern, and also suffered a dislocation of the fetlock joint. Dr. Richardson said the long pastern was broken into more than 20 pieces.

Before the surgery, Dr. Richardson said he rarely works on such severe injuries because the horse invariably would be euthanized at the track. "It is very unusual to have three catastrophic injuries all together," he said at the time. "I've never seen this exact fracture and I never tackled one before."

Afterward, Dr. Richardson described the surgery as "very difficult" but that Barbaro was a good patient. The colt's blood supply to his hoof is good, said Dr. Richardson, and after being lifted out of a swimming pool used for the post-operative segment of the surgical process, the colt "practically jogged back to his stall" in the IC unit with the new cast on his hind leg.

Barbaro, the 3-year-old Dynaformer colt who was the 1-2 Preakness favorite, broke down about 200 yards into the race. As a Preakness-record crowd of 118,402 watched in horror, jockey Edgar Prado was able to pull up the colt soon after the finish line. The race eventually was won by 12-1 shot Bernardini.

Michael Matz, who trained Barbaro for the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson, watched some of the surgery and attended the media conference afterward. "I feel much more relieved after I saw him walk to his stall than when I was loading him in the ambulance to come here," said Matz. "I feel that at least he has a chance, whereas last night I didn't know what was going to go on."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee