Barbaro Injury Changes Preakness Storyline

This past weekend's Preakness Stakes horse race was overshadowed by the life-threatening injury to favorite Barbaro. Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse magazine, talks to Steve Inskeep about Babaro's injury.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, is recovering after surgery to repair broken bones in his right rear leg. Barbaro was hurt at the start of Saturday's Preakness stakes in Maryland. At the time, his injuries were described as life threatening. Now, his survival is described as 50/50.

This morning we've called Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for the magazine, The Blood Horse. Good morning.

Mr. STEVE HASKIN (Senior Correspondent, The Blood Horse Magazine): Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess one of the privileges of your job is you get to go to the Preakness. What did you see of this injury? How did it happen?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, nobody really knows how it happened, because these injuries can happen in any different number of ways. But basically, he just took a bad step about a 100 yards coming out of the gate, and unfortunately, he was right in front of everybody. It was just absolutely gut wrenching to see.

And when you watch a race, your eyes capture the flow the race and you know instantly when that flow is interrupted that something bad has happened. And when it does in the home stretch like that in front of almost 120,000 people, it's even worse. From a personal viewpoint, there was a foreboding feeling when Barbaro broke through the gate before the start of the race, because you don't usually see that. And I was watching on the big screen from the infield, and one moment Barbaro was in a great position, and the next he was gone.

So I turned around to see what happened and there he was on the track. And I could see him standing there with his right back leg just dangling, as if it was nearly detached from the rest of the leg. At first there was stunned silence, something that's - it almost like it was surreal, as if it's not happening. And then the mood changed abruptly when they brought out the ambulance and set up the screen shielding the horse from the crowd, because that usually is a sign that they're going to euthanize the horse.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, Mr. Haskin. I want to clarify that term, life threatening, because in the case of a horse, doesn't that mean that the owner might make the decision to put him to sleep?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, the owner usually does make the decision, and it depends on insurance. But the owner is not going to put this horse to sleep unless he has to put this horse to sleep, because they have already invested tens and tens of thousands of dollars just for the surgery alone, and then there is the recuperative care. So there is no problem at all as far as keeping this horse alive monetarily.

INSKEEP: And explain why that investment, and we have to call it an investment I suppose, as made in saving the horse?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, first of all, the public consciousness now is amazing. I mean, our website has taken triple the number of hits it's ever taken ever. And everybody is looking. Everybody has been waiting with bated breath to see how the surgery took. And you could just see from the website, reading all of the comments, what kind of national attention this has gotten. It's been all over TV, all over the national news. So they're not going to put this horse down.

Plus the fact that he is worth so much money as a stallion, regardless of how much money he is insured for. If this horse survives, he is going to be worth maybe $40-50 million dollars as a stallion.

INSKEEP: And in just a couple of seconds, is there anything about the breeding of today's thoroughbreds that makes them more fragile?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, yes, basically. What we've done unfortunately through the year, we've infused so much speed into the blood of the thoroughbred, and combined with the harder and faster racetrack surfaces, it's harder keeping horses sound that it used to be. We have a new track surface now called polytrack that's being used that will help a lot, and hopefully other tracks will use deeper cushions on their race courses.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, Mr. Haskin, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Mr. HASKIN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Steve Haskin is senior correspondent for the magazine The Blood-Horse. He is talking with us about the Preakness, where the winner by the way was the horse Bernardini.

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Barbaro Makes Progress After Leg Surgery

Jockey Edgar Prado tries to control Barbaro after pulling up. i i

hide captionJockey Edgar Prado tries to control Barbaro after pulling up on the front stretch during the 131st Preakness Stakes, May 20, 2006, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Jockey Edgar Prado tries to control Barbaro after pulling up.

Jockey Edgar Prado tries to control Barbaro after pulling up on the front stretch during the 131st Preakness Stakes, May 20, 2006, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) — Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro is making progress from surgery on his broken leg, even showing an interest in mares, but the colt still faces a long and perilous road to recovery, his surgeon said Monday.

Notable Injuries

Some notable horses who have been injured in major races:

  • Barbaro, 2006 Preakness (survived)
  • Charismatic, 1999 Belmont (survived)
  • Union City, 1993 Preakness
  • Prairie Bayou, 1993 Belmont
  • Go For Wand, 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff
  • Mr. Nickerson, 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint
  • Shaker Knit, 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint
  • Timely Writer, 1982 Jockey Club Gold Cup
  • Ruffian, 1975 match race vs. Foolish Pleasure
  • Black Hills, 1959 Belmont

Source: The Associated Press

Dr. Dean Richardson, who performed the intricate five-hour operation, was satisfied with the result, but blunt about the future for a horse that put together an unbeaten record until he broke down in the Preakness Stakes.

Richardson, who operated on Barbaro at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center for Large Animals on Sunday, said the horse's chances for survival were still 50-50. He said Barbaro was showing positive signs and "acting much more like a 3-year-old colt should act."

Barbaro was trying to bite in his stall and even showing interest in a group of mares who stopped by to visit.

"There's some mares there, and he's extremely interested in the mares," Richardson told ABC's Good Morning America.

Nevertheless, he emphasized that the horse had a long road ahead and would never race again.

"Realistically, it's going to be months before we know if he's going to make it," Richardson told CBS' The Early Show. "We're salvaging him as a breeding animal."

Barbaro's surgery to repair three bones shattered in his right rear leg at the Preakness went about as well as Richardson and trainer Michael Matz hoped. It wasn't long after surgery when Barbaro began to show signs he might make it after all.

After a dip into a large swimming pool before he was awakened — part of New Bolton's renowned recovery system that minimizes injury risk — Barbaro was brought back to his stall, where he should have been calmly resting on all four legs.

Barbaro had other ideas.

"He decided to jump up and down a few times," Richardson said, smiling. "But he didn't hurt anything. That's the only thing that really matters. It had Michael worried."

That's not much to worry about after the agony of the previous 24 hours. Barbaro sustained "life-threatening injuries" Saturday when he broke bones above and below his right rear ankle at the start of the Preakness Stakes.

His surgery began around 1 p.m., but it wasn't until about eight hours later that Richardson and Matz emerged for a news briefing.

"I feel much more relieved after I saw him walk to the stall then when I was loading him in the ambulance to come up here, that's for darn sure," Matz said. "Nobody knew. It was an unknown area going in. I feel much more confident now. At least I feel he has a chance. Last night, I didn't know what was going to go on."

Unbeaten and a serious Triple Crown threat, Barbaro broke down Saturday only a few hundred yards into the 1 3/16th-mile Preakness. The record crowd of 118,402 watched in shock as Barbaro veered sideways, his right leg flaring out grotesquely. Jockey Edgar Prado pulled the powerful colt to a halt, jumped off and awaited medical assistance.

Barbaro sustained a broken cannon bone above the ankle, a broken sesamoid bone behind the ankle and a broken long pastern bone below the ankle. The fetlock joint — the ankle — was dislocated.

Richardson said the pastern bone was shattered in "20-plus pieces."

The bones were put in place to fuse the joint by inserting a plate and 23 screws to repair damage so severe that most horses would not be able to survive it.

Horses are often euthanized after serious leg injuries because circulation problems and deadly disease can arise if they are unable to distribute weight on all fours.

Richardson said he expects Barbaro to remain at the center for several weeks, but "it wouldn't surprise me if he's here much longer than that."

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