As word of Barbaro's death spread yesterday, many in the region fell to tears or silence.

In the end, their prayers had not been enough. Nor were the lighted candles, the countless get-well cards, the bags of feed, the carrots sent by children enamored of a powerful racehorse who fought first to win, then to survive.

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At the New Bolton Center for Large Animals in Kennett Square, tears streamed down the face of Patty Morgera, who was diagnosed with breast cancer days before Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby last May. "He's been my inspiration," the Downingtown woman said.

Devastated by the morning's news, Morgera, a Vanguard analyst, said she was compelled to drive to the center where the Triple Crown hopeful had been treated since suffering a catastrophic leg injury in the Preakness eight months ago.

Morgera completed her cancer treatments in December - confident that Barbaro, too, would soon be released from the hospital.

His struggle made her believe that "no matter what obstacles you faced, you could keep going forward."

As the day progressed, the center became the grounds of a makeshift wake.

Keith Pfaff of London Brook broke the news of Barbaro's death to his 5-year-old daughter, Rabea, when he picked her up from school. He took her to the center so she could leave flowers.

"I wanted to make his life better in heaven," Rabea said after laying a bouquet of carnations on a table. She left a note for the colt, saying she hoped he felt better now, and signed it, "Love, Rabea."

Many called the center to convey their condolences. Some wanted to make donations to New Bolton's Barbaro Fund for large-animal patient care.

The medical staff was grieving, too.

"Everyone is pretty busted up," said veterinarian Midge Leitch, a radiology clinician at the center. "We're trying to get through the day."

Barbaro's loss cut as keenly on city pavement as in suburban stables, many people believing that, in some way, Barbaro was their horse, too.

Barbaro was like Rocky, another fighter who never gave up, said Peter Gust, a Langhorne resident. "It was great watching him race," he said. "It's sad to see a horse so powerful go down like that."

Said Gerry Leonarski, recently retired as a coach of Gloucester County's 4-H horse and livestock programs: "It's a sad, sad day. All of the children have been following his progress. He's become part of them."

Victoria Hicken, who owns the Happy Horse tack shop in Albion and works as a 4-H equine instructor, recalled a woman in her 20s who recently died from injuries suffered in a riding accident.

"As much as we live for competition and love our horses and our sport, we understand that sometimes bad things happen to good horses and good people," she said.

At Woodedge, a riding school in Moorestown, students were practicing in an indoor ring when the news came.

"It's like a member of your family," said Leslie Hawk, 19, of Mount Laurel, as she sat atop Noah, a retired racehorse with a chestnut coat. "You try, try, try to keep them alive, but there comes a time when you have to let go."

At the entrance to the New Bolton Center yesterday, the white fence was still covered with signs from people hoping for Barbaro's recovery.

"Because of you, I want to be a better person," read one.

"The Miracle of Barbaro. Prayers Answered," said another.

Cathy Sanders of Landenberg stood near a snow-touched field and threw a kiss in Barbaro's memory.

Alie Berstler, owner of Kennett Florists, brought daisies and roses and a basket of apples.

"A lot of people are in shock," said Berstler, her voice cracking. "We knew things were bad, but we said prayers. . . . People saw in him what they wanted to see in themselves."

Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8120 or jgammage@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Vernon Clark and Mike Newall contributed to this article.