Year Later, Memories of Barbaro Still Resonate at the Preakness

By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

David Zipf has administered the lethal injection that ends a broken horse's life on the racetrack many times since he began working as a veterinarian in Maryland 42 years ago, but his voice can still choke with emotion when he talks about Barbaro.

"Almost every day, there are certain things that occur that cause you to reminisce. Little things, like loading horses in the gate," said Zipf, the chief state vet on duty last May for the Preakness Stakes, when Barbaro made his tragic run. "Hardly a day goes by that you don't recall some of what happened. It never goes away."

A new field will assemble for the 132nd running of the Preakness this Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, but the race will be haunted by what occurred last year. With a crowd of 118,402 watching at the track, and millions more by television, the Kentucky Derby winner's right hind leg shattered less than 50 strides out of the gate, beginning a story of horror, hope and, finally, sadness when the effort to save Barbaro ended Jan. 29 at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center animal hospital.

For Zipf and others involved that day, the effort to move on is driven by memory. Barbaro clung to life for nearly nine months at New Bolton, in Kennett Square, Pa., through complicated surgeries, glimmers of progress and crushing setbacks. The saga proved riveting and exhausting, and even the tiniest change in the colt's condition touched off a round of prominent news stories and well-wishes pouring into the hospital.

When this year's Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and his challengers line up Saturday, it will be hard not to think back to last year, when racing's best story spiraled out of control.

"It's going to be hard to watch the starting gate open and not think about it, and everyone will breathe a huge sigh of relief when they make it all the way around, knock on wood," said Steven Crist, the publisher of the Daily Racing Form. "It's not like there have been 20 important races at Pimlico since to wash away the memory."

For jockey Edgar Prado, who earned his first Kentucky Derby victory on Barbaro only to have the horse break down under him two weeks later on the track on which he rose to stardom, riding in the Preakness this year will be an exercise in maintaining professionalism.

"I will concentrate on doing the best job I can," said Prado, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey, who will ride long shot C P West for trainer Nick Zito. "I cannot carry things that happened in the past. It wouldn't be fair for the new people I ride for.

"For me, as a rider, Barbaro brought me the biggest race in my career and my biggest thrill, but it's time to find another horse to bring new memories or revive those memories. It's time to move on."

Michael Matz, who trained Barbaro, also is trying to focus on the future, even as the world around him appears intent on reminding him of the past. Matz, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center, has been mulling running his colt Chelokee in the Preakness, but instead likely will run in a lesser stakes for 3-year-olds on the undercard.

That race used to be called the Sir Barton, in honor of the first Triple Crown winner, but last December the Maryland Jockey Club renamed it The Barbaro Stakes.

Matz, who in 1989 survived a plane crash in Iowa that killed 111 people, said he would not be apprehensive running in either the Preakness or the Barbaro Stakes.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company