Thoroughbred horse racing in America has been lucky over the last couple of years. The last two winners of the Kentucky Derby went on to the Belmont Stakes with a chance for the Triple Crown.
California Chrome couldn’t break the 36-year drought of Triple Crown winners when he failed to win the Belmont, but, one year later, American Pharoah won one for the ages, immortalizing himself. Before that, it had been nine years since casual racing fans rallied around a horse.
That horse was Barbaro.
A Kentucky-bred son of Dynaformer out of a Carson City mare named La Ville Rouge, Barbaro got his start racing on the grass at Delaware Park as a two-year-old in October of 2005.
He won his debut in a maiden special weight affair at one mile over the green stuff as 7-1 outsider under jockey Jose Caraballo. The “green” colt had some gate issues, but they were quickly forgotten, as Barbaro won going away.
He would win his subsequent start for trainer Michael Matz and Lael Stables’ Roy and Gretchen Jackson in the Laurel Futurity in the same fashion — drawing off.
Barbaro was raced again on New Year’s Day of his sophomore campaign — this time in the Grade III Tropical Park Derby at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Calder — and, again, he won handily under the guidance of new jockey Edgar Prado.
Matz next tried his undefeated charge on dirt for the first time in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes and Barbaro kept his perfect record intact, as he went to post as the betting favorite for the first time in his career.
Up next was the Grade I Florida Derby, where Barbaro faced his toughest test to date, yet managed to prevail by ½-length over Sharp Humor, again as the post-time favorite.
Now five-for-five lifetine, Barbaro headed to the 132nd Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs as the second favorite to Illinois Derby winner Sweetnorthernsaint.
Although he stumbled at the gate, like he did in the Florida Derby, Barbaro hung three lengths behind pacesetter Keyed Entry in the early going, making a big move on the far turn.
Barbaro was in overdrive as he turned for home, gobbling up Keyed Entry and Sinister Minister and taking the lead for good at the five-sixteenth pole.
Although he jutted a bit wide at the top of the stretch, Barbaro was in command and blew away the field, remaining undefeated with a seven-length Kentucky Derby romp.
North Americans became mesmerized by the undefeated Dynaformer colt, and all eyes were on this superhorse two weeks later at Pimilco for the start of the Preakness.
Barbaro was a bit edgy that day, acting a bit strangely, as he broke through the Preakness gate prematurely—having gate troubles like he did in his debut at Delaware Park.
Once he was reloaded and the race officially got underway, something went horribly wrong.
One only has to listen to the race call from Hall of Famer Tom Durkin on the NBC broadcast to feel the gravity of the injury and the impact that it had.
Barbaro suffered catastrophic fractures to his right hind leg, on national television, both above and below his right rear ankle.
Prado pulled the colt up as quickly as he could, but the damage was already done.
The prognosis wasn’t immediately known, but Barbaro had most definitely taken his last strides as a race horse — the race was now on to save his life.
Every effort and action was taken to save him for a possible career as a stallion and no expense was spared or professional opinion ignored in treating Barbaro.
Ultimately, 254 days after the Preakness, on January 29, 2007, Barbaro was humanely euthanized, after battling laminitis in his left leg — the leg that had been asked to do so much over the last eight months and nine days to steady to stricken colt.
Barbaro will never be forgotten.