01/22/2007 12:00AM

Optimistic words on Barbaro

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Dr. Dean Richardson, in Beverly Hills to share in racing's Eclipse Awards, said on Monday that Barbaro is being weaned from pain medication and is becoming more comfortable on his laminitic left hind foot, two weeks after suffering a setback.

"He has steadily improved," said Richardson, who has treated Barbaro at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center since the colt's catastrophic injuries in the Preakness Stakes eight months ago. "He's eating great. He hasn't been in a sling in over a week. The fact that he bounced back, and quickly, is very encouraging. It's still disappointing that he had a setback, but these types of things are not unexpected."

Richardson made his comments before being presented by the Turf Publicists of America with the group's Big Sport of Turfdom Award, which recognizes individuals for their assistance with the media. Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, and the New Bolton Center were to be presented with a special Eclipse Award Monday night for their attempts to save Barbaro.

The fractures Barbaro suffered initially in his right rear leg have mended, but the laminitis he developed in his left rear has proved more troublesome. A cast that was placed on that foot following surgery 10 days ago has yet to be removed, so Richardson said he has yet to ascertain how well the foot is healing. However, Richardson said, Barbaro "stands on it," whereas when he had his setback two weeks ago, "he wouldn't put it down."

"We've been able to decrease his pain medication," Richardson said. "He's not sedated. It's to address his hind foot."

Richardson said that if and when Barbaro is relocated to Kentucky, his care would be handed off, most likely, to Dr. Scott Morrison of Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic.

"But this was a significant setback, so I don't think he'll leave for at least a month, and it could easily be longer," Richardson said.

"He's a smart, enduring, tough kind of horse," Richardson said. "I think this shows that a lot of horses can behave like this if given the opportunity. Most horses who make it this long go home. I'm hoping he's one of those.

"It's awkward getting an award like this because we're not done. We haven't finished the job. Trying to reconcile that, I hope the award is for the effort that has been made, and for the ongoing effort. I hope something good comes out of this. I'm just a small part of this. Barbaro is the biggest part."