Post-Surgery Prognosis for Kentucky Derby Winner

Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro was severely injured at this weekend's Preakness race in Maryland. But instead of euthanizing the horse, his owners decided on complex surgery in an attempt to repair damage to the horse's leg. Noah Adams speaks with a horse-surgery expert about Barbaro's condition.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

The Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, one day after surgery, is active in his stall; even, his surgeon says, has jumped up and down a few times. At the start of Saturday's Preakness race, the second race of the Triple Crown campaign, Barbaro took a bad step, as horse people say, and was pulled up by his jockey, Edgar Prado, with clearly a broken right rear leg. The operation yesterday in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, took five hours, the shattered ankle put back together with screws and a metal plate. We're joined by Robert Clark, who has written about thoroughbred racing and horses and has done quite a bit of painting. And Mr. Clark, this is why we called you. This image of this horse being pulled up by Edgar Prado was just a terrifying thing to watch, wasn't it?

ROBERT CLARK (Painter and Author): I guess people who have watched a lot of horse racing over the years probably go back to the image of Ruffian first.

ADAMS: Remind us about Ruffian, that was back in the 70s?

Mr. CLARK: In that age of gender equality, we had the Bobby Riggs tennis match with Billie Jean King and about that same time we had Foolish Pleasure, who had won the Kentucky Derby going up against the filly Ruffian. And it was a lot of fun for people going into it, they were all wearing their badges supporting one camp or the other, and it was on national television when she broke down, and at that time she had to be put down and she's buried at Belmont, where the race took place. And I think the big difference between then and now is the advancement in the technology in veterinary practice.

Barbaro's injuries were probably every bit, if not worse, than the injuries that she had, but you know I listened to the press conference last night from the vets who actually did the surgery after seven hours coming out, it was just amazing what they were able to do to actually save him and actually have him standing on that leg back in his stall right now. Just amazing the advancement in the technology.

ADAMS: And eating his food and seems to be doing well. Now, before this happened, for those who didn't see it, there was this extraordinary moment where Barbaro, just full of energy and vitality, in the starting gate breaks through the starting gate and makes what would be a false start.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Actually, I was watching the races the day before when they had the Pimlico Special and if I'm not mistaken, I think a horse came through the gate the day before, which I thought was pretty unusual as well. I mean, I've seen a lot of racing, and it's happened. But to actually see one on Friday and then see another one, you know, the very next day was I think a bit unusual, yeah.

ADAMS: And then you had, of course, the breakdown about 100 yards into this race. It seemed as is people watching this race around the country sort of collectively held their breath for this particular horse because they know the severity of an injury to a leg can be life-threatening.

Mr. CLARK: Absolutely. And what people kind of forget, because I was sitting there moaning and groaning as soon as it happened and didn't hear the race announcer anymore, but in reality the race announcer got lost too and couldn't even make the call until it got into the final turn. And if you watch the replay, they even stopped following the other eight horses in the race and focused on Barbaro. So really it was such a shocking event that, you know, a minute and a half passed before people collected themselves enough to say, hey, you know, the horses are still running.

ADAMS: Tom Durkin, the race announcer, was a bit confused there for a moment.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah, yeah. And again, he's as much a lover of horses as anybody out there, and I think that's what you have there is this, you know, concern over the individual as you'd have for any horse. But you know, this was an emerging star, no different than a young rock star or a young NASCAR driver or any athlete or someone that you start to develop a relationship and a fondness for. Because we've heard the stories of the horse, of the owners, of the jockey, of the trainers, and each of their stories. And that's how you really start to develop your own personal connections with these animals that way. And since the Derby, the last two weeks this horse has become kind of a celebrity, which isn't unusual, but maybe even more of a celebrity than often is the case. I know last year after Giacomo won the Derby, sure, everybody had heard of him, but I don't think he had gotten the type of fanfare that already Barbaro was getting.

ADAMS: Robert Clark talking with us from Indian Harbor Beach in Florida. He is the author of Dream Race: The Search for the Greatest Thoroughbred Racehorse of all Time. Thank you, sir.

Mr. CLARK: Absolutely.

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Barbaro Makes Progress After Leg Surgery

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

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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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