Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" ---- 02-10-07

Thoughts On A Thoroughbred

It's been almost two weeks since the word came down and, for many of us, it came down HARD: Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, had been euthanized after further complications developed from his breakdown at the Preakness. The gallant champion--unbeatable on an oval track--couldn't overcome the effects of the shattered right hind leg that caused him to pull up lame during the early stages at Pimlico. Those of us who watched the gruesome incident live will never forget the picture of a fallen colt with his injured leg in the air while jockey Edgar Prado selflessly tried to stabilize his horse's weight; it was difficult to watch--if not impossible. All of a sudden, it didn't matter anymore (at least to us non-bettors) that Barbaro wouldn't win that day; we simply hoped and prayed. Barbaro became ours.

It will be debated for years to come whether the decision to keep Barbaro alive--by owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson--was done for selfish reasons; it's well-known that the offspring of such a heralded colt would command small fortunes. The opinion here is that this was just a small part of it; I believe the Jacksons were willing to try all they could to save their colt simply because he was, in fact, BARBARO. In essence, you couldn't give up on this type of champion. He dominated at the Kentucky Derby like few others had--remaining undefeated and bringing Triple Crown talk onto every sports page in America. He was THAT good; just to be mentioned in the same conversation/breath with the legendary Secretariat tells one what kind of potential this bay colt possessed. Just before the Kentucky Derby, racehorse expert Ray Kerrison of the New York Post described Barbaro as "a colt of such soaring potential, he could be the new Seattle Slew." And, not least of all, this special animal was simply LOVED by his devoted owners; those horse-lovers I've spoken to say that the adoration/bond between the four-legged creature and caretaker is almost incomparable in its raw intimacy.

Hell, we ALL grew to love Barbaro--from the very first time we saw X-rays of the 27 screws holding his injured right leg together. You see, he just HAD to beat the odds this time; he became a national symbol of hope and strength when this country surely needed it. He was that friend/patient we could all visit without traveling the long distance to Kennett Square, PA, as the media would keep us closely updated on the condition of "America's horse." We cringed on the bad days, rejoiced on the good ones. I'll never forget that early November day when Dr. Dean Richardson, his devoted chief surgeon, told us all that the brave colt should eventually enjoy a comfortable and productive life. We weren't surprised--although we rationally surmised that a 1,200-pound animal with limb concerns was not out of the woods--at least not yet. The love that many of us had developed for Barbaro truly multiplied that day; no matter what, he was gonna make it and prove any skeptics all wrong. Eventually, after all the surgeries and remarkable comebacks we witnessed during Barbaro's eight-month stay in Pennsylvania, the other “L-word” won out--laminitis, the painful foot disease--crippling the colt to the point where Richardson deemed his patient's future as hopelessly bleak. Yes, putting expressions aside, the great Barbaro truly did not have a good leg to stand on in his final days.

"Only" a horse? Hardly. Barbaro is a hero because he unknowingly united an adoring public while making the improbable seem possible; that's what genuine heroes do. Perhaps it was that vulnerability/unassuming way of animals/pets that attracted us to the legend better known as Barbaro. He truly became a symbol of perseverance and recovery; perhaps his greatest legacy is that he inspired many two-legged individuals to challenge themselves and to remain confident and hopeful in spite of daunting odds. Even while convalescing, he knew of no other recourse than to keep running and never look back. Yeah, who said that human beings can't learn a lot from a horse?

The great Barbaro is gone now--perhaps to a special place where sports heroes gather and swap inspiring stories. His eight-month run at the New Bolton Center will forever remain more impressive than any blistering training run he completed while under the watchful eye of trainer Michael Matz. The perceived "selfish" actions of keeping Barbaro alive will not be in vain, either; what was learned during his treatment will go a long way toward refining the future care of fallen horses. Sadly, we'll never know just how good he could have been; we'll just have to take joy in the potential that was there. His story speaks to the strength of a competitive spirit--be it animal OR human--which made his passing all the more difficult to accept. Barbaro, unlike many others, just never quit--and we were proud because he had now belonged to all of us. While the sadness is still fresh in our minds, it may be beneficial to remember what co-owner Gretchen Jackson told the mourning public shortly after Barbaro took his last breath: "Certainly, grief is the price we all pay for love."

Yes, the kind of unique love we'll always have for an unforgettable colt--a hero who should remain a special part of all of us.

Bob Lazzari

Reprinted by permission of the Valley Times.


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