Jockey Remembers 'My Guy Barbaro'

For jockey Edgar Prado, this year's Kentucky Derby marks two years since his win aboard Barbaro. Scott Simon talks with Prado, who has written My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

When Edgar Prado was a young jockey, he was cautioned to never care too much about a horse. You can love them, of course, but horse racing is a tough and competitive business in which riders often switch mounts and race against friends. And then Edgar Prado rode Barbaro, the teammate of a lifetime, as he calls him, and together they won the Kentucky Derby by a margin that left fans gasping.

(Soundbite of race)

Unidentified Male (Announcer): And here comes Barbaro, the undefeated Barbaro comes up on the outside and he takes the lead as the field (inaudible) for home and the Kentucky Derby and it's, oh, Barbaro in a sublime performance. He runs away from them all and he has saved something left for the pictures. Barbaro wins by seven.

SIMON: Prado was on Barbaro two weeks later in the Preakness, but that great athlete broke down in the first few steps in the race. And in that moment and in the months of ultimately unsuccessful recovery that followed, Edgar Prado says that commandment not to care too much for a horse shattered into tiny pieces. Mr. Prado, who's one of the world's leading jockeys with almost 6,000 career wins has written a book with sports writer John Eisenberg, "My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse." Mr. Prado joins us from the studios of WLRM in Miami, Florida. Mr. Prado, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. EDGAR PRADO (Jockey): It's very nice to be here.

SIMON: Well, and of course we want to specify the obvious, this is being prerecorded earlier in the week before you were riding Adriano on Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Mr. PRADO: Yes, I'm looking forward, you know?

SIMON: Something about you first, you grew up in Peru and sometimes, I love this story, joined your father sleeping in the stables with sick horses.

Mr. PRADO: Yes. Yes, we did, you know. My father's a very loving, caring person, he love animals, he love horses, and one of the horses got real sick, he wanted to be sure everything goes okay, you know. And I was right next to him, feeding the horse, take care of him, just trying to give him comfort and try to be sure everything goes nice and smooth.

SIMON: Barbaro came into your life just as your mother was preparing to leave your life.

Mr. PRADO: Yes. My mother was everything for me and she was very strong. She always remember we had to be decent, clean, and honest. She was here for a little while and then went back to Peru and then in the nineties have to come back to this country again. I was trying to do everything I can to bring my mother because we just find out she had a cancer. And I was very devastated because I wanted to bring my mother to have a good chance to fight the cancer.

SIMON: Um-hum.

Mr. PRADO: I was trying to find a good cause for the derby at sometime. I knew that at the time that Barbaro was very special and I tried to spend time with Barbaro, but at the same time I was trying to see my mother too. So it was a very hard situation at the moment.

SIMON: What was it like to race Barbaro?

Mr. PRADO: Barbaro was very special, you know. What it is is that he was enjoying it, every single minute. He was put to the test. He would get - loved to run and I think he loved the wipe out after the race, you know. I can see his ears flipping around, his eyes getting real bright. He was a very smart horse and he was very proud of the job that he accomplished.

SIMON: I'm afraid I have to bring you - bring you back to that fateful day at the Preakness. The way you describe it in the book, you had to stop him from running.

Mr. PRADO: Yes.

SIMON: He would have kept on going.

Mr. PRADO: I felt something right away and I don't care about the race, I don't care about anything. I pull him up and pray and hope that the doctors trying to save him and I'm given another change.

SIMON: Mr. Prado, in this book, you and John Eisenberg describe a moment in Barbaro's stall that afternoon.

Mr. PRADO: Yes, I went to the stall and I hollered and he let me put his head on my shoulder. I can feel that he was in pain and it was our time together, just me and him.

SIMON: Were you communicating in that moment, or when you'd see him over the next few months in the hospital or in the stables?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah. And well, and he let me know exactly. He was a horse with a lot of personality. I take a drive from the video club in the morning and go to see him because it takes about three and a half hours to go to the hospital. He let me know that - when he wanted to see people and when not.

SIMON: Now for the life of a big time jockey, you constantly have to be on airplanes. You're flying all over the world, aren't you?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah. Well, I spend more time in the air than I spend in the ground.

SIMON: But you kept coming back to this town in Pennsylvania to see Barbaro.

Mr. PRADO: Yes, I went to see him six times. My wife, she was big part of that too. My wife, my kids, everybody in the family really love him.

SIMON: I guess I don't have to tell you Mr. Prado, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who own Barbaro, were criticized by some people for going through those extraordinary measures for so many months, multiple surgeries to try and keep Barbaro going. What do you think of those arguments?

Mr. PRADO: I think it - they've given their best to try to happen. Believe me, I've been going to see Barbaro. He wasn't that uncomfortable, but he never was really on pain and he was doing his best every single day. I mean it was a great patient, like a human just trying to overcome something that was against their odds.

SIMON: You think that a great deal was learned and a great deal was accomplished by the effort to keep Barbaro alive all those months?

Mr. PRADO: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately, something good had to come on out of the something bad.

SIMON: Can you tell us about Nicanor?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah, Nicanor is - actually he's named after my uncle.

SIMON: This is Barbaro's...

Mr. PRADO: Full brother.

SIMON: Yeah. So you're going to ride Nicanor when the time comes for him to start racing?

Mr. PRADO: I would love to ride him. Hopefully he continues to do what Barbaro has started. You know, that would make a lot of people happy.

SIMON: Mr. Prado, thank you so much.

Mr. PRADO: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: Edgar Prado, his new book is My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse.

You're listening to Weekend Edition Saturday from NPR News.

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Bissinger Recalls Barbaro on Kentucky Derby Eve

Barbaro at the 2006 Kentucky Derby

hide captionWith jockey Edgard Prado, Barbaro comes around the final turn in the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

On Saturday, the world's finest three-year-old horses will run the 134th Kentucky Derby, a race that toys with the hopes of millionaire horse owners and $2 bettors alike.

The 2006 race was won by a horse named Barbaro. Two weeks later, in the second leg of the Triple Crown, Barbaro pulled up lame with a shattered right hind leg. The nation watched as specialists spent nearly a year trying to save the American thoroughbred's life. The end came on Jan. 29, 2007, when complications forced veterinarians to euthanize the horse.

Reporter Buzz Bissinger followed the story of Barbaro for Vanity Fair. His feature, "Gone Like the Wind," was a finalist for a 2008 National Magazine Award. Bissinger says he still gets sad when he hears clips of the call from Barbaro's Kentucky Derby win.

"It wasn't just a magnificent animal," he says. "This was a magnificent athlete. It would be like Michael Jordan dying in the prime of his life, or Beckham dying in the prime of his life."

Bissinger says horses can't lie, but they can think. "They do have interior lives," he says. "And this was a horse of uncommon intelligence and uncommon guts and bravery. What strikes me the most about him is he really taught humans how to die. He finally, in his own way, said, 'Enough is enough.' "

He says that much of what went wrong for Barbaro can be traced to the nature of horse racing in America. Barbaro was treated well, he says, but the hard-packed tracks and fast races took a toll. "You've seen their legs — their legs are thinner than ours," he explains. "They're not built to carry the muscle mass that they have to carry."

Bissinger vs. Blogging Culture

Bissinger, the author of Friday Night Lights and Three Days in August, recently sparked intense debate after he tangled with Deadspin.com blogger (and NPR contributor) Will Leitch. The two squared off Tuesday on HBO's Costas Now, with Bissinger attacking the culture of blogging — emphatically.

As the New York Times described the encounter, "Bissinger entered in an extreme state of annoyance and outrage about bloggers' writing skills, their lack of journalistic ethics and their absence of credentials. His distaste for Leitch and his ilk was communicated with scornful body language."

"I think blogs are dedicated to cruelty, they're dedicated to dishonesty, they're dedicated to speed," Bissinger told the television panel. His tirade prompted one Deadspin commenter to write, "... Buzz is afraid that if America gets dumber by reading blogs, we won't buy his books and pay for that addition on his house."

In his interview with NPR's Bryant Park Project, Bissinger acknowledges that some bloggers are trying to do good work. He says he might have delivered his message more diplomatically, but he stands by the essence of his remarks.

"I think in general the tone of most blogs is very cruel and very mean-spirited, because that's what gets posts, and they want posts, because that's what gets traffic hits," Bissinger says. "If you get enough of them, that's where you get advertising, and that's where you begin to make money."

The craft of writing and reporting is threatened by Internet culture, he says. "Most blogs are dedicated to what is completely antithetical not just to me but to the dozens of journalists that I have known in my life," he argues, saying readers generally will not find brave, deep reporting online. "It's mostly about edge, it's mostly about off-the-top-of-your-head opinion. And I think it does dumb us down as a culture."

On our blog, an open thread: Bissinger responds to iKerfuffle.

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My Guy Barbaro
My Guy Barbaro

A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse

by Edgar Prado and John Eisenberg

Hardcover, 202 pages | purchase

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  • A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse
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