08/27/2006 11:00PM

Barbaro's cast may be off soon

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro may soon have the cast on his right hind leg removed, three months after he broke the leg and underwent extensive surgery to repair it.

Barbaro's surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, said Monday in a statement that the colt's right leg has healed to a point where the cast might soon be unnecessary.

Veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center equine hospital in Kennett Square, Pa., changed Barbaro's right hind cast on Sunday after what Richardson termed "a small crack" appeared in it.

"Based on the new radiographs that were taken, the leg looked excellent under the cast," Richardson said. "The pastern joint looks completely fused, and there is only a small area in the long pastern bone that has a little farther to go before we take him out of the cast completely."

The University of Pennsylvania release also noted that the X-rays showed no signs of infection in Barbaro's right hind leg. In July, the colt had an infection that prompted Richardson to replace most of the original repairs - a locking compression plate and 27 screws - that he had inserted to stabilize the joint in a lengthy surgery on May 21.

Barbaro's left hind leg, which developed laminitis in July, remains bandaged. Richardson removed an estimated 80 percent of the hoof wall in July, and now the colt is in the long process of regrowing his hoof. His veterinary team changes that bandage daily and so far seems happy with Barbaro's progress.

Barbaro broke his leg in the May 20 Preakness and was transported immediately to New Bolton, where he underwent surgery the following day. He remains in intensive care at the center's George D. Widener Hospital.

The university noted that it would next update the public on Barbaro's condition on Sept. 5, unless there is "a significant change" in the colt's condition.