01/29/2008 1:00AM

Barbaro memorial planned at Churchill


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Barbaro will be memorialized with a bronze statue just outside the main entrance gate of Churchill Downs, the colt’s breeders and owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, announced Tuesday at a news conference at the track.

The announcement came exactly one year to the day after Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, was euthanized after an eight-month period of around-the-clock medical care following a severe leg injury suffered in the Preakness Stakes. The Jacksons said they had been inundated with questions since Barbaro’s death about a final resting place for the colt’s ashes and that they believed Churchill, the site of his greatest victory, to be the most appropriate place.

The Jacksons said they are in the process of hiring a sculptor for the statue, which will be situated in an open brick plaza just outside adjacent entrances to the racetrack and the Kentucky Derby Museum. The ashes will be buried in a gravesite near the statue, which is expected to be completed and dedicated sometime in 2009. Churchill officials said the placement of the statue outside the gates means that no admission fee will be required to view the memorial, and they expect the Barbaro statue to become a highly popular destination for fans.

Roy Jackson said he hopes the statue “won’t be a standard one” and “will represent his love of running.” Local entrepreneur and horse enthusiast Leonard Lusky is managing the memorial project and is assisting the Jacksons in their selection of a sculptor.

Barbaro, trained by Michael Matz and ridden by Edgar Prado, was just the sixth horse to win the Kentucky Derby while undefeated, and his 6 1/2-length win margin was the largest in the Derby in 60 years.

The colt “really transcended the memory of recent Derby winners,” said Churchill president Steve Sexton.

Churchill vice president John Asher said during opening remarks at the conference that while Secretariat long has been the “emotional touchstone” for Derby fans, Barbaro has become just that “for a new generation” of fans. Citing the countless memorial tributes from children and older fans, Asher said Barbaro “left an incredibly positive legacy.”

“We got a tremendous amount of correspondence and still get some almost daily, some very articulate letters about what Barbaro meant to them,” said Gretchen Jackson. “I don’t think anyone knows how really widespread [his popularity] was.”

Barbaro was ultimately euthanized due to the effects of laminitis, a painful disease of the hoof. The development of laminitis is a common final-stage illness in cases of severe injury or illness in horses. Secretariat also was euthanized because of laminitis in October 1989.

After the news conference, the Jacksons held a two-hour public autograph session in the museum lobby, with proceeds going to laminitis research at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where Barbaro was overseen by Dr. Dean Richardson and his staff during his recuperation. Gretchen Jackson said nearly $3 million already has been raised toward laminitis research at the center.

The Jacksons, Richardson, and Matz have been honored repeatedly by various sectors of the horse industry for their heroic efforts with Barbaro. Gretchen Jackson said that although “it would have been easier” to have ordered the colt to be euthanized shortly after the Preakness, “we never considered it – never.”

Because of the fundraising drive for laminitis research and other “extremely positive” outgrowths from the Barbaro saga, “saving his life certainly was not in vain,” she added.