01/11/2007 1:00AM

Barbaro's progress set back

Sabina Louise Pierce/University of Pennsylvania
Barbaro, in intensive care since May, has had a lingering case of laminitis since July.

Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro began to show acute discomfort Tuesday, and veterinarians discovered that a portion of the hoof wall had separated from his laminitic left hind foot, according to a release issued Wednesday by the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. Barbaro underwent a procedure Tuesday night at the Kennett Square, Pa., equine hospital to trim away damaged tissue.

The setback came one week after an equine podiatry specialist applied a cast to Barbaro's left foot in an effort to stabilize it. The prognosis for Barbaro, who has been in intensive care at New Bolton since breaking his right hind leg in the Preakness on May 20, is unclear.

"The foot cast was removed, and some new separation of the medial (inside) portion of his hoof was found," the New Bolton release said. "This required some additional debridement (removal of the damaged tissue) last night.

"He is being treated much more aggressively at this time for his discomfort. He is continuing to eat well and is otherwise stable."

A 4-year-old Dynaformer colt, Barbaro developed a severe case of laminitis in his left hind leg in July. The painful and potentially fatal hoof disease, a common complication in injured horses, often occurs when a horse shifts excessive weight off an injured leg and onto the healthy opposite leg.

His left hoof has been regrowing since July, when the laminitis prompted New Bolton's chief surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, to remove an estimated 80 percent of the hoof wall.

On Tuesday afternoon, Richardson said that the equine podiatry specialist Dr. Scott Morrison applied the cast "with the goal of starting to help realign his coffin bone properly in that foot" and added that X-rays taken on Monday showed "improved alignment of his coffin bone and continued healing of the fractured right hind pastern region."

But later on Tuesday, Barbaro began to show signs of discomfort.

"Dean is in the process of trying to figure out what's causing the discomfort," Roy Jackson, who bred and owns Barbaro with his wife, Gretchen, said Wednesday.

The Jacksons saw Barbaro Wednesday morning.

"I've seen the horse, and he seemed comfortable," Jackson said. "He was eating his hay. His vital signs are fine."

As recently as late December, Richardson and the Jacksons had indicated that Barbaro might be released from New Bolton soon, perhaps by the end of January. But Richardson also had warned that even as the fractured right hind leg healed, the laminitic left hind foot "remains a more formidable long-term challenge."

"I hope he'll get through this," Roy Jackson said on Wednesday. "The whole thing is in uncharted waters and makes a good lesson in 'one day at a time.' It's a difficult situation that we've been dealing with since the beginning."