05/29/2006 11:00PM

Prado visits Barbaro, who continues to heal

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Sabina Louise Pierce/Univ. of Pennsylvania
Edgar Prado, who rode Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, greets the horse Tuesday at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania. "I'm very happy that he's very bright and strong," said Prado.

For the first time since bringing Barbaro to a halt in the Preakness Stakes on May 20 and then dejectedly viewing the colt's damaged right hind leg, jockey Edgar Prado visited Barbaro on Tuesday and was relieved by what he saw.

"I'm very happy to see that he's doing lots better," Prado said Tuesday in a news conference at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., where Barbaro underwent extensive surgery on May 21. "I'm very happy that he's very bright and strong. He wanted to get out of his stall. I was happy to see him that way."

Dr. Dean Richardson, who performed the surgery on Barbaro, also gave a positive update on Barbaro's condition, but continued to remind everyone that the colt's recuperation will be lengthy and still involves several potential hazards.

"He's had an incredibly good week," Richardson said. "He's done far better than we ever could have hoped for - so far, so far, so far."

Barbaro fractured the lower portion of his right hind leg in three places, and his ankle - or fetlock - was dislocated. Richardson fused the joint with a plate and 27 screws, and wrapped the leg in a cast that extends from just below the hock. Richardson said Barbaro was doing so well in that initial cast that Richardson was reluctant to change it just yet.

"It's literally a day-to-day situation," Richardson said. "He's very alert. He's walking around in his stall."

Barbaro could wear his current cast for three weeks, Richardson said. Barbaro will need a cast for several months. The purpose of changing the cast would be to peek inside and see how well Barbaro is healing. Richardson said that all indications are that Barbaro is doing well, but he said complications such as infection or laminitis are still possibilities.

"Catastrophic infections usually occur within 10 to 14 days," Richardson said. "Laminitis, or a failure of fixation, could occur at a later date. There's no question that things are much better, but he's still a long, long way from being discharged.

"To be perfect, you have to fuse the fetlock and pastern. There has to be no infection. All these bad things could still happen. But bone is the only tissue in the body that can heal and be truly stronger. He won't have normal mobility, but the bone will be very strong."

Asked what kind of mobility Barbaro would have, Richardson jokingly said he "won't do a dressage test, gallop, or jump."

"He'll have a hitch in his giddy-up," Richardson said. "But we're way, way away from that."

The progress to this point, however, certainly relieved Prado, who said the few days after the Preakness "were very difficult."

"It was hard to come back to ride the following week, but it would have been harder staying at home doing too much thinking," Prado said. "I was heartbroken, but he's doing better. He's not out of the woods yet, but I'm hoping. It will take a long time to heal from the heartbreak of that particular day."

Prado began to pull up Barbaro about an eighth of a mile after the start. Although he has been praised for bringing Barbaro to a quick stop, Prado deflected any credit on Tuesday, saying Barbaro was responsible.

"You saw he's a smart horse," Prado said. "He knew he was in trouble. He didn't put up any resistance. I think he did most of the job."

Prado said Barbaro suddenly "changed his action."

"I didn't take a chance," Prado said. "I pulled him up right away."

Lou Raffetto, the president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which runs Pimlico, on Tuesday said a review of stewards' patrol films and corresponding still photos has led him to theorize that inadvertent contact between Brother Derek's right front leg and Barbaro's right rear leg contributed to Barbaro taking an awkward step and suffering the fracture.

"It happens just before the sixteenth pole," Raffetto said. "Barbaro drifts out just as Brother Derek is closing the margin. Brother Derek extends his right front and it appears to hit Barbaro's right hind. Barbaro's head comes up.

"It's not 100 percent conclusive. But it looks like it was an unfortunate accident. It was nobody's fault."

Prado said he was not sure that is what happened. And at this point, Prado said, he only cared about Barbaro's recovery.

"He broke out of the gate nice and clean," Prado said. "What happened in the race is a mystery. Nobody will know for sure. We can't think about the past now. We have to think about the future."