Monday, January 29, 2007
Barbaro - Rest in Peace
The news broke today that Barbaro, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, was euthanized today.
I remember cheering him to an amazing win at the Derby, and my "money" was on him as I watched him in the Preakness. What an incredible horse! Undefeated! This little colt might really have what it takes to win the elusive Triple Crown!
I remember the sinking feeling when he broke through the gate prior to the start of the Preakness, the second jewel of the Trible Crown, realizing that when that happens, the race is done for that hapless horse. The dream has been dashed by his overly-abundant spirit.
He was reloaded just the same, ready to go, still fighting to run as he'd been born to do.
And then when the line finally broke from the gate, I remember watching him flail, still trying to run, still trying to compete even with a shattered cannon bone. The jockey, Edgar Prado, pulled him up quickly, but there was nothing he could do. Nothing.
Had it been any other horse, he would have been put down on the spot. But no; this colt had promise, and his owners hoped for a miracle. This colt had already captured hearts with his spirit and his dominance on the track. Is it unreasonable to ask that, perhaps, a miracle might happen?
And so they did their best, and fans from all over supported their efforts to save such a promising colt, one who may have commanded prime stud fees in the hope of progeny with his fire.
The article I read today noted an acknowledgment that his owners were not even certain he could stand at stud, for he may be too weak. (As an aside; the regulations surrounding registered racehorces specify that the progeny of a stud must be concieved naturally, not through a laboratory). And still, they continued to work with him, to rehab him in favor of saving his life.
I'm sure some of this was loyalty and sentiment; they had gone so far to try to save him,setback after setback, and when one is committed to such a course, one must stay the course. I'm certain there was social pressure; for so many made donations to assist with the high cost of the surgeries and rehab for Barbaro.
But in the end, in spite of the hope, in spite of the money spent, in spite of everything done on behalf of an equine hero, he has fallen. Nothing more could have been done; those who worked so hard to save his life had to give up in defeat. His injury was just too severe, the complications neverending, the complications, in the end, an insurmountable hurdle.
I am a huge fan of horseracing, thanks to Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry. Thanks to the Black Stallion, Man O'War, and my Dad, who encouraged my interest by bringing me to the local racetrack on my 16th birthday.
I used to want to become a jockey, wanted to become a trainer, dreamed of riding a horse like Barbaro to a Triple Crown victory. A few years ago, while researching the fictional story I began when I was twelve and have resurrected, I obtained a snapshot of life on the backside; life behind the scenes.
In many ways, the horses are simple commodities, but some really stand out. Some become heroes not only to the fans, but to those who work with them. Some show true promise, and everyone, everywhere, is out there looking for the next big horse. The next champion.
The vast majority of racehorses are "claimers", and we never know their names. Their owners play them like cards, just trying to get into the game and stay afloat, yet it grabs them and pulls them in, in spite of the cost, in spite of the aggravation, having promising horses claimed out from under them, in spite of the chance. Because it's a rush, it requires strategy, and because of the people involved. Everyone has a story; every horse has a story, and sometimes, that story ends in the history books. This is the holy grail those of racing seek, even as they work among lowly claimers.
I don't think most people understand what a horse like Barbaro means to those behind the scenes; he can be representative of that horse they all dream about, the "Big One", the "Next Great Horse". The one that never comes. Most people never get to experience a truly great horse, even after a lifetime in the business.
So even those who pitted their racers against Barbaro are affected when one like him goes down. It's a true tragedy, for the blood in his veins is attainable, and even his very existance is inspirational to the entire sport. Racing needs a horse like him, and sadly, as his career was cut short, his story is unfinished and we will never know what he was capable of; we will never know how great he could have been.
Barbaro is now on the books as one of the beloved of American racing, his name forever written with the likes of Seabiscuit, Ferdinand, and Ruffian.
Horseracing, in all its excitement, in the tidal wave it is, is also wrought with heartbreaking tragedy.
Barbaro was a horse who had the heart to go all the way; but in the end, he has become a poster horse for the harsh reality of the tragic end of an amazing and nearly unattainable dream.