Barbaro had the swagger of a rock star and a closing speed not seen since Secretariat when his spectacular Kentucky Derby win five years ago had the horse world aglow with the possibility of a Triple Crown winner.
But the story took a sudden turn when the big colt suffered a breakdown at the Preakness, and racegoers and the television audience watched in shock as he struggled to hold his shattered hind leg above the track.
Whether Barbaro’s breakdown was seen live, or in the countless news reports that would follow the horse’s eight-month battle to live, the scene affected many. The “drunks in the infield” of the Preakness reportedly went silent that May 20th as tears flowed among shocked race goers and worldwide fans.
Five years later, the saga surrounding Barbaro’s win in Kentucky and subsequent breakdown, including his fight for life, and his effect on horse-welfare advocacy groups and laminitis research, is explored by exercise rider turned author, Alex Brown.
In new book Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy, Brown weaves interviews done with a 100 people touched by the strapping colt into a fast-paced story, which begins with the birth of the horse, and concluds with an “Afterwards” chapter penned by Barbaro’s owner Gretchen Jackson.
Readers gallop along on a journey that begins with the large colt’s birth to a feisty mother who was known to terrorize her handlers for peppermints. We discover that even as Barbaro began training for serious competition he never once let a rider (11 of them) fall off. Jockey’s tell Brown he was the classiest horse they’d ever sat on. As Georgina Baxter-Roberts says, “Galloping Barbaro made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I have never had a feeling like that riding a horse, ever.”
The book details the Graded competitions that Barbaro ran in order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, offering numerous quotes and interesting observations from those who knew Barbaro before he became a household name.
After the Kentucky Derby win, Brown goes on to tell how unlike many horses who appear tired after such a grueling event, Barbaro looked “resplendent.”
“He looked magnificent. It did not look like he had run a race,” Brown says. “He looked like a confident animal and he looked like he had done nothing special.”
After the “unspeakable tragedy” of his breakdown at the Preakness, the greater and lesser among his fans were hit hard. Brown’s book is filled with interviews ranging from his famous trainer Michael Matz as well as lead veterinarian Dean Richardson and his crew of dedicated specialists, to major horse industry figures and reporters.
Brown gives a platform to many who wish to express how the horse touched them.
Pari-mutuel Teller Cindy Johnston of Delaware Park Racetrack and Slots says this: “It was strange watching a veil of sadness and disbelief drop across the crowd.”
Brown’s book is filled with commentary culled from hundreds of interviews from across the horse world. Wonderful insights are offered from professionals and fans alike. All about the colt, his struggle, and the lasting effects of the breakdown that took his life.
Although Barbaro never lived to challenge the legend of the Triple Crown, which fans so fervently wished for, Brown contends that his legacy has done much more to infuse the sport. His injury inspired pioneering veterinary efforts to rebuild his fractured leg, and later, to help him survive laminitis. And the equine medical world has been the better for it.
At the same time, and just as important, the book shows how Barbaro’s injury has raised public awareness of horse welfare in general, leading to scrutiny of many issues facing racehorses; from racetrack surfaces to horse slaughter, and the emergence of nonprofits trying to help ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
The book is also replete with 164 photographs and interspersed with sketches by artist Lynden Godsoe.
Brown spent about two years traveling around North America and worked at seven racetracks to conduct research for the book.
Alex Brown, a New York Times correspondent for racing column The Rail, continues to champion these issues as he travels from racetracks to bookstores signing books, and discussing the impact the big colt still has.
“There is no doubt that Barbaro’s short life has made a difference in the world,” writes Brown. “It has created a heightened awareness for the need to solve the puzzle of laminitis. It has made a difference for horse welfare more generally, and has affected the ways in which horse racing supports its stars, the horses.
“Barbaro has shifted the needle—we are now more aware of the shortcomings of horse racing, and are making strides to fix them.”
Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com highly recommends this book! Packed with information and insights, the chapters delve into Barbaro’s far-reaching impact on people who rooted for that horse in the Derby and during his courageous battle to overcome his injuries. In Brown’s thorough chronicle, the magnitude of good that has been done on behalf of this horse—by veterinarians, his owners, and all who have worked since on horse-welfare issues— is clear.