OCEANPORT, N.J. - As Curlin was being led into the winner's circle after the colt won the Breeders' Cup Classic Saturday at Monmouth Park, about 100 yards down the stretch a large screen was being put up to shield the public as a wonderful race horse was about to be put down.
Irish-bred George Washington was a superstar grass miler in Great Britain last year. For reasons that are still not clear, his connections decided to run the colt in the 2006 Classic at Churchill Downs, his first start on dirt. George finished sixth, was promptly retired and sent off to stud.
The colt was unretired after fertility problems and sent back to the track. The colt had a good year, but did not win in three starts and appeared slightly off his best form.
It had to be a haunting flashback for Barbaro's owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson when they heard about George Washington. They were watching the races on television at their Chester County home, but none of the damage was shown on TV. At the track, you could see George Washington's right front hoof just dangling there, the result of what Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith called "an open fracture of the cannon bone in the right front fetlock [ankle] joint." He also called it "a hopeless injury as far as repair."
The Jacksons bred George Washington before selling the colt for $2.2 million as a yearling to current owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, three major players in European racing who have had major success.
On the morning of May 6, 2006, the day Barbaro would win the Derby, George Washington won the Group I 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. It was one of the great days for any breeder ever. George Washington was born a few months before Barbaro in 2003. Now, both are gone in 2007.
"It's just sickening no matter whose horse it is," Gretchen Jackson said yesterday. "It's really sad."
Since Barbaro's devastating injury in the 2006 Preakness that eventually caused the colt to be euthanized in January, Gretchen has become very active in a myriad of horse causes, especially the ending of horse slaughter in America.
The Jacksons had thought about going to Monmouth Saturday, just to see George Washington.
"We hadn't seen him for a while," Gretchen said. "Thought it would be fun to see him again."
They chose not to go and were happy they didn't.
"I just wish racing could never experience this," Gretchen said.
But it happened - again. And why George Washington was brought to America and allowed to race on a sloppy track that he had surely never experienced in a race he could not win is a question as open as the devastating injury that caused his death. *