05/21/2006 12:00AM

Surgery nears completion for Barbaro

Like Now (right) and Sweetnorthernsaint lead the Preakness field into the clubhouse turn as Barbaro (left) is pulled up by Edgar Prado.

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. - As of 6 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, equine surgeons attempting to save the life of Barbaro were nearly finished after more than five hours of work, according to an official with the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.

Hospital director Corinne Sweeney told reporters that the goal of the surgery on Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who gravely injured his right hind leg Saturday in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, was to "fuse the fetlock joint in the ankle so that the horse could bear weight." Barbaro suffered fractures to his cannon bone, sesamoids, and large pastern, and also suffered a dislocation of the fetlock joint.

Following surgery, surgeons planned to place the leg in a sling and place Barbaro on a raft on a pool before the horse emerges from anesthesia. The post-operative process is known as pool recovery and is used to prevent a horse from injuring itself when awakening from surgery.

The surgery was being performed by a team headed by Dr. Dean Richardson, the New Bolton chief of surgery. The operation began shortly after 12:30 p.m. at the New Bolton Center, which is located about 90 minutes north of Pimlico in Pennsylvania.

Earlier Sunday, when Dr. Richardson met with the media and representatives of Pimlico, he said the surgery would be "very complicated" but that one positive note was that none of the injuries had broken through the skin, which would have exposed the injuries to bacterial infection. Dr. Richardson said he rarely works on such severe injuries because the horse invariably would be euthanized at the track.

"It is very unusual to have three catastrophic injuries all together," Dr. Richardson said. "I've never seen this exact fracture and I never tackled one before."

Barbaro, the 3-year-old Dynaformer colt who was the 1-2 Preakness favorite, broke down about 200 yards into the race. Jockey Edgar Prado was able to pull up the colt soon after the finish line, where a Preakness-record crowd of 118,402 watched in horror. The race eventually was won by 12-1 shot Bernardini.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee