08/16/2006 11:00PM

Barbaro no longer wearing sling

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Barbaro's condition has progressed to the point that he no longer is wearing a sling to help him keep his weight off of his injured hind legs. That good news came Thursday from the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, where Barbaro remains in intensive care after breaking his right hind leg in the Preakness and subsequently developing severe laminitis in his left hind leg while at the hospital.

Fans of Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, were heartened earlier this week to see video and photographs of Barbaro being led outside to graze while on a lead shank held by chief surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson. Richardson is now allowing Barbaro hand-grazing sessions lasting about 20 to 30 minutes a day, the hospital said in a Thursday release.

"His blood work is normal, and his vital signs are good," Richardson said. "I can't complain. Barbaro has had a very good week."

Richardson has overseen the care of Barbaro, a 3-year-old Dynaformer colt, since the night of May 20, when Barbaro arrived straight from Pimlico after shattering his lower right hind leg shortly after the Preakness began. Richardson inserted 27 screws and a compression plate in the leg the following day. Despite a subsequent infection in that leg, which now appears to be cleared, and laminitis in the left leg that required removal of about 80 percent of his hoof, Barbaro has made remarkably good progress so far.

Barbaro had been put in a special sling that allowed him to rest his weight off of his hind legs, but he no longer needs it now, Richardson said.

"His comfort level has improved to the point that when he was in the sling, he wasn't using it at all," Richardson said.