Colt Could Have a Career in Breeding
Monday, May 22, 2006
As doctors performed emergency surgery on the racehorse Barbaro yesterday, far more was at stake than the life of a beloved thoroughbred who won the Kentucky Derby going away.
Barbaro, who broke his right hind leg in three places Saturday at the beginning of the Preakness Stakes, will never race again. But the 3-year-old could have a lucrative career ahead of him as a stallion. With a pedigree forged by hundreds of years of genetics, he was expected to make tens of millions of dollars for his owners -- who have invested heavily in his racing career -- by breeding with mares from around the world.
The colt's life-threatening injuries were to one of his hind legs, both of which he will need at full strength to support and balance his massive weight during the process of covering a mare. "That's the whole idea, that he might become a very good stallion so they will breed him and have babies to sell. And a horse like that can sire Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners for years to come," said Michael Pons, who owns and operates Country Life Farm, Maryland's oldest thoroughbred farm, near Bel Air.
"He has a very strong pedigree, he's a very handsome horse and he's a Derby winner," Pons said. "He has all the magic criteria."
If Barbaro survives, he is likely to recover enough to breed, doctors and horse racing experts said yesterday. But Barbaro's future at stud was only one consequence of an injury that rippled through a stunned U.S. horse racing industry. First and foremost, there was concern for Barbaro, for his ability to survive the extraordinarily difficult surgery, for a recovery expected to be equally hard and for the owners who took him to the pinnacle of racing only to see it all come crashing down.
"This is just devastating," said Sally Boswell, manager of Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., where Barbaro lived for much of the past year and where about 100 people gathered to watch the Preakness at a party in the barn where he was stabled. "We're just hopeful that he can be saved, because everyone loves this horse."
Pons likened the injury to a top football or basketball player going down in a game and suddenly being at risk of dying. "Imagine having the horse of a lifetime, and all of a sudden he's just taken away from you," he said. "That's a very difficult thing."
If he is able to breed, Barbaro could fetch $40,000 to $50,000 per foal and sire an average of about 60 babies a year in a career that could last until his early twenties, Pons said. That would easily make up for the several hundred thousand dollars his owners will likely spend each year on his care and promotion, he said.
But first, Barbaro must recover from the surgery to repair the fractures in the cannon bone above the ankle, the long pastern bone below the ankle and the sesamoid bone behind the ankle. The procedure was performed at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, considered a top hospital for horses in the mid-Atlantic region.
From the moment Barbaro awakened from anesthesia, a key hurdle was the psychology of an animal who was bred from birth to run and won't be able to understand why he can't.
"When there's danger, a horse's natural instinct is to run. You can imagine them hundreds of years ago on a wide-open prairie running from a mountain lion," Pons said. "So here he is, coming out of anesthesia, and he doesn't understand what's happening to him."
One positive sign was Barbaro's cooperation when doctors were initially attending to him in his stall at the Preakness, said Nicholas Meittinis, a veterinarian who treated him there. "A horse with half a brain will just want to fight you, but Barbaro just stood still. He was controlled, and he didn't try to lash out. I think he has the right temperament."
Obstacles over the next several weeks include the possibility of infection, fever, reinjury to the leg or injury to the other hind leg, which must support more of Barbaro's weight. Barbaro will have to stand, probably with a sling or cast on his leg, because if he lies on his side, he could develop complications such as pneumonia, experts said.
The severity of the injury makes a return to racing impossible. "They will have to put a series of pins in those bones to hold them together. And it's not just the bones that were broke. The ligaments were ripped and torn and stretched," said Pons, who compared the wound to a skier who breaks his leg in several places. "You can't just put that back together again."
But Pons said Barbaro could be breeding in less than a year and could look forward to the years after. "He'll be out in the green grass and sunshine at a beautiful place and have the best of care," Pons said. "It will be a wonderful life."