Barbaro, the champion racehorse who became far more famous for his battle to live than for his great feats on the track, was euthanized yesterday morning with his owners and surgeon at his stall.
The procedure took place at 10:30 a.m. at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, where he had been since suffering catastrophic fractures in his right hind leg during the Preakness Stakes on May 20, beginning his long medical saga under the supervision of owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson and surgeon Dean Richardson.
"We knew we had to put him down," Gretchen Jackson said in a telephone interview a couple of hours after Barbaro was euthanized. "It was too much, and the guy didn't need to go through anymore."
The end came 278 days after Barbaro romped to a 61/2-length victory in the 132d Kentucky Derby in front of 157,536 people at Churchill Downs.
"He was the same, which made it hard," Gretchen Jackson said. "It's just so hard for Dean [Richardson, Barbaro's surgeon], and it wasn't great for anybody."
The Jacksons, who live in West Grove, Chester County, just a few miles from the New Bolton Center, had talked about the options with Richardson earlier in the morning.
The surgeon said at an afternoon news conference that Barbaro had the most uncomfortable night of his long stay at New Bolton on Sunday night. He had developed severe laminitis in both his front feet, Richardson reported.
"That left him without a good leg to stand on," Richardson said, adding, "he was a completely different horse."
Barbaro was euthanized by injection in his stall.
"It is rough, but not to be there is rough," Gretchen Jackson said of being at the stall at the end.
"He's been a friend or whatever, everything to us. . . . I think we've been concerned about him for a while. We just wanted the right moment where he's still himself. I think it had reached the point where it was timely."
"At least he can rest now," said Peter Brette, assistant trainer to Michael Matz, and the man who exercised Barbaro every morning. "He's been fighting long enough."
As a chilly wind blew yesterday morning at New Bolton, a woman from Gettysburg waited in the lobby for news of her stallion, scheduled for surgery by Richardson. When she heard the news of Barbaro's death, the woman said she was going off to be with her horse.
The day after the May 20 Preakness, Richardson repaired Barbaro's multiple "catastrophic" fractures in his right hind leg in a surgery that lasted more than five hours in the Kennett Square veterinary facility.
At that point, Richardson put in 27 titanium screws and a 16-hole steel plate and said the chances of Barbaro's survival was "a coin toss."
In July, there was a most-feared complication: Barbaro had laminitis in his left hind foot. The inflammation of the tissue in that foot caused Richardson to remove 80 percent of Barbaro's hoof. Richardson called it, "basically as bad as laminitis gets." He called Barbaro's recovery a long shot.
There were better days after that, although the hoof re-grew unevenly and Richardson had to surgically remove tissue in the hoof.
Then came yet another complication, the last one: What began as an abscess in Barbaro's right hind foot eventually necessitated yet another surgery, as an "external skeletal fixation device" was attached to keep weight off that leg.
During Barbaro's stay in New Bolton's intensive-care unit, Web sites emerged devoted to his survival and online "candlelight" prayer vigils were held as new fans followed his daily progress.
In addition to the thousands of cards, e-mails, religious medals, and letters from children - one girl sent 19 cents for the Barbaro Fund plus two 4-H ribbons - so many medical suggestions came in that the New Bolton Center assigned one of its doctors to field them, from people who had "products, machines, paranormal offerings, nutritional and therapeutic suggestions. Barbaro even received a wedding invitation from a Baltimore couple.
All that came later.
Horse racing will never know how good Barbaro could have been. The winner of this nation's most prestigious horse race was never beaten in a race he completed. His lifetime earnings were $2,302,200.
After Barbaro's romp at the Kentucky Derby, trainer Matz and Edgar Prado, Barbaro's jockey, genuinely believed this would be the horse who would break through and become the first Triple Crown winner - sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes - since Affirmed in 1978.
Instead, the enduring visual will be of a horse galloping along on three legs just after the start of the Preakness Stakes, the hoof of his right hind leg turned at a sickening angle.
As it stands, Barbaro and another locally owned and trained horse, 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, are the only horses to be undefeated and win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977. Barbaro's success on grass, the surface where he won his first three races, added to his resume. Matz said after the Preakness that the plan had been to race Barbaro in some major grass races later on, possibly in Europe.
"He was a special horse," Edgar Prado said the day he visited Barbaro at New Bolton soon after his injury. "He doesn't have any particular track. He runs in the turf, in the dirt, on sloppy track. You don't find horses like that. They don't come too often."
Prado, who has won the Belmont Stakes twice, beating Smarty Jones on Birdstone in 2004, believed Barbaro to be the horse of his lifetime. Some of the most heartbreaking photographs from the Preakness Stakes were of Prado, bent over, his face almost unnaturally long, still holding his whip.
The New Bolton Center and the Jacksons were honored with a special Eclipse award for all they had done for the horse. At the time, Richardson said he hoped the honor was for the effort, not any achievement.
Throughout Barbaro's stay, through multiple surgeries and countless cast changes, Richardson repeatedly pointed out that Barbaro was not out of the woods.
Every year, horses often get the most publicity going into the Kentucky Derby for the stories of the humans surrounding them. That was the case with Barbaro this year. A plane going down in an Iowa cornfield in 1989 became a central part of the horse's story, because Michael Matz was on that plane, one of 184 survivors of United Flight 232.
Matz, a three-time Olympic equestrian rider, made sure that three children flying without their parents made it out alive, and stayed with them an extra day before their parents arrived.
The whole saga became part of the television coverage of the 2006 Derby. But when Barbaro won so convincingly, the horse took over center stage. The morning after the Derby, there were no more plane-crash questions for Matz. His big horse was a dominant horse. Questions and comments about winning the Triple Crown popped up immediately, with two races still left to win. Barbaro had the pedigree to win the last and longest race, the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes, so the Preakness was considered the toughest test.
Maybe the biggest controversy between the Derby and the Preakness in Baltimore was a light-hearted one, about where Barbaro was actually from. He was born and bred in Kentucky, spent most of his second and third winters in Florida, ran his first race in Delaware, and worked out of a stall in Maryland. But his owners were from Pennsylvania.
"I could make a lot of enemies, couldn't I?" joked Gretchen Jackson when she was asked a few days after the Derby where she considered Barbaro to be "from."
The Jacksons are the breeders, as well as the owners of Barbaro. It was their mare, La Ville Rouge, who was bred to Dynaformer, the sire. It was their choice where Barbaro would be born. If she had to decide, she said it had to come down to Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The way she looked at it, all the other places were working stops.
But had the horse at least been to Pennsylvania?
"Maybe on the Turnpike," Gretchen Jackson quipped.
Going into the Preakness, the men who had spent each day for eight months with the horse couldn't hold back their confidence. Barbaro, they were convinced, was ready to make history. "I can't see him getting beat at all," mentioned Brette, an Englishman and former jockey. On Barbaro's back every morning as his exercise rider, Brette knew how Barbaro strained to get past every horse just going around the training track.
There was no way to know that once Barbaro was led on to the van under a passing rain shower the day before the Preakness, the horse would never see the inside of their barn again.
The scenes from May 20 at Pimlico instantly became part of horse-racing history. First, Barbaro bumped the starting gate and left prematurely. Brought back around, he broke cleanly, but in the first furlong, after he apparently took a bad step, Prado said he heard "a noise" and worked to pull him up. Barbaro went about 100 yards on three legs.
After Matz, racing down from the grandstand, arrived on the track, a tarp was put up, shielding the horse from the crowd.
"He thought it was kind of spooking the horse," David Zipf, racetrack veterinarian for the Maryland Racing Commission, said of Matz. "He said, 'Maybe you ought to put that down.' "
Barbaro already looked frantic, Zipf said, "and to have that thing flapping . . ."
At the rail, a well-dressed woman screamed, "No! Don't put that horse down! Take him home!"
On the track, the veterinarian didn't hear any discussion about doing anything but saving the horse's life.
"There's no question, he had this look of almost like hysteria - that's one reason Michael Matz wanted to get that tarp down," Zipf said of Barbaro as he was being initially examined and getting a splint put on. "He was almost agitated, almost like panic setting in. Rapid breathing, and the pulse rate increased, and the pupils dilated. It's almost like a fright, an hysterical fright syndrome setting in. You could sense it. His muscles tightened up. It's like a frantic situation."
Scared as he evidently was, Barbaro stayed put as the splint was put on.
"He knew there was something wrong," Brette said. "The outrider said, 'Let's take him over there [to the side].' I said, 'Leave him alone, I know he won't move,' because he's that clever. They all went by him" - the other horses, after they crossed the finish line - "and he never even looked."
Less than an hour after the race, Barbaro was put in an equine ambulance, on his way to Kennett Square, to the New Bolton Center. Three Baltimore city policemen led the way on motorcycles. Matz, out of his coat and tie, wearing a windbreaker, followed with Brette at the wheel. "I think we spoke two words, literally," Brette said. "I think we were both in shock."
By that time, a radiograph already had been e-mailed to Richardson, who was in Florida performing two surgeries, but had finished up in time to watch the race on a six-inch television screen.
"You could see enough," Richardson said. "That's the sad thing. It was just crushing. My stomach started churning. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a very bad injury. I knew which horse it was. "
Eventually, the enduring images were from New Bolton, as Jacksons and Matz visited daily, through the ups and downs. But that night at the Preakness, speaking quietly to a couple of reporters about an hour after the race, Gretchen Jackson said, "You can expect being beaten. You didn't think about this."
She added, "Poor Barbaro. Nobody expects this."
Nobody expected any of it.