Then Barbaro broke down at the Preakness. And a crusade took hold.
Fueled by his twin passions (horses and Internet) Brown blogged near constantly about the horse, updating readers two or three times a day, as the animal struggled to survive after shattering a leg in the 2006 Preakness.
Brown’s audience grew.
Then on Jan. 29, 2007, eight months after the accident, Barbaro was euthanized and Brown’s site visitors swelled to 70,000 readers. So struck were they on that tragic racing day by the sight of Barbaro holding up his broken leg before a televised national audience, they rallied to his site Alex Brown Racing for answers, for comfort, for a place to gather, as it were.
And rather than ease up on covering Barbaro, Brown was galvanized to tackle the serious issues emerging from the tragedy, including debates about turf safety, horse-slaughter and animal welfare.
“I think Barbaro captured the imagination of the public because of his strong will and fight to live while being treated at the New Bolton Center,” Brown says in a telephone interview. “There were those who understood he was a seriously great racehorse, but there was another group of people who were from a broader, animal-loving audience.”
Now, nearly five years since the great horse died, Brown has completed writing an exhaustive history of Barbaro. With over 100 interviews, which include Barbaro’s owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson and his trainer Michael Matz. Brown says he has poured everything into the creation of “Greatness & Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy.”
“This book is my capstone. I’ve run with this project, in essence, since the day after the Preakness in 2006,” says Brown in a telephone interview. “I couldn’t make this book any better. It will be the single most detailed biography of Barbaro.”
According to Brown, the work features the perspective of major racing industry figures and racing media, as well as those of jockeys, trainers, Barbaro’s owners, and many others. And also interweaves comments and photographs contributed by Brown’s considerable fan base.
“There have been a lot of people who helped with this project,” Brown says. “It’s been a massive undertaking with tremendous support throughout the industry.”
He quips, “I don’t know who I haven’t interviewed.”
This is not how Brown expected the story to unfold.
Barbaro and the Preakness were only supposed to be a teaching moment for Brown’s Internet marketing class at the University of Delaware.
The British exercise rider and academic, who earned his MBA from University of Delaware, devised a marketing project for his class shortly after Barbaro won the Derby. He directed students to start promoting the upcoming Preakness Stakes for a racing colleague.
So the class started to promote the upcoming meet via another website, Tim Woolley Racing. This was the site Brown initially worked on before he created the site now bearing his own moniker.
All was going well until the day of the big race. When Barbaro broke down and was rushed to the New Bolton Large Animal Clinic, Brown took it upon himself to write and report on the horse’s progress. He filed stories two and three times a day, updating Barbaro’s condition.
As he worked, he developed a relationship with Barbaro’s owners, the Jacksons, and with the horse himself. Toward the end of Barbaro’s life, Brown was allowed to walk the horse to a grassy paddock and stand with him while he enjoyed a snack.
While he grazed, the national media continued to report on the horse, and people from all walks of life were touched by his struggle.
“People just wanted the horse to live. Horsemen, animal-rights people— everyone was just really rooting for him,” Brown says.
And when he died, he left a legacy that is only growing in appreciation.
“There is no one answer to explain what it is about Barbaro that is so inspirational,” Brown says. “He was a great racehorse, on a great stage, struck down in his prime.”
Brown’s book Greatness & Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy is due out in April 2011.