This up-to-minute book follows the story of Barbaro, the Triple Crown contender whose unlikely fight back from almost certain death from a shattered leg and ensuing complications captured the hearts of a nation who responded with a stunning display of love.
In 132 years of derby races, only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown, the last in 1978. Barbaro was a favorite to be the twelfth until May 20, 2006, at the Preakness Stakes, when his jockey, Edgar Prado pulled him up a couple of hundred yards from the starting gate. Subsequent examination revealed that he had virtually exploded bones in his right rear leg so badly that under normal conditions he would have been euthanized right on the track. But his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, chose another path, one filled with anxiety and tears--but also courageous determination to save his life.
This touching, soaring book--filled with insights from Barbaro's trainers, breeders, caretakers, and owners--follows Barbaro from foal to colt to champion to perfect patient. But In the end it is not just a story of a down-but-not-out champion, but of human beings at their very best.
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February 26, 2007
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Excerpt from Barbaro by Tom Philbin
Quest for a Champion
In 1941, there existed a crazy thoroughbred horse named "Whirlaway," a small chestnut colt who stood fifteen "hands" high (each hand is 4" wide). His trainer, the great Ben A. Jones, characterized him as being as nervous as "a cat in a room full of rocking chairs" and not too bright. "You could teach him," Jones said, "but you couldn't teach him much."
In fact, one might say, just looking at his tail made him seem crazy. Instead of being like most horses', which were trimmed at the hocks, he had a tail that went almost all the way to the ground. Indeed, his nickname was "Mr. Longtail." But it was kept long for a reason. When he was running, the tail would stretch out and flail at other horses, who would automatically keep their distance from this nervous horse.
Jones tolerated Whirlaway for one simple reason: As someone once said, "He could outrun the wind."
Indeed, he could. In the Kentucky Derby, he ran the fastest time ever, 2:01 and 2⁄5, a time that would stand until 1962, and he also became that rarest of creatures--winner of the Triple Crown, also winning both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
At the time, Whirlaway had many admirers, not only because he was fast but because of his eccentricities--you never knew what he was going to do when he ran--known all over the country, indeed the world. And one of those who knew was a little girl who lived in Pennsylvania named Gretchen, who, like others, had a black-and-white picture of him. She would spend much time looking at the horse--studying him.
Gretchen, as it happened, loved horses, and unlike some things in childhood that prove to be flashes in the pan, her love for horses endured. And one day in 2006, Gretchen Jackson would be watching as a horse she had dreamed about for 30 years--her Whirlaway--who was named Barbaro, a small Peruvian man on his back, was bursting out of a pack of horses as they entered the stretch and drove to the wire to win in the ultimate horse race, the Kentucky Derby, by 61⁄2 lengths, the biggest margin of victory in over 60 years.
As Gretchen watched, standing next to her was another horse lover, her husband, Roy, who had dreamed along with her.
The Jacksons could hardly have predicted that Barbaro would turn out to be, as it were, Barbaro. They own Lael (it means loyalty) Farms in West Grove, Pennsylvania, and had been breeding horses for many years. But they had never succeeded in developing one that was winning any big races in the United States, though they did have a winner of a big race in England. They nursed a dream of winning big for 30 years.
Still, there was no guarantee that you would breed a champion no matter what you did. The main thing was a horse's pedigree, but that was no guarantee of performance either. A foal's mother could be the 1980 Derby winner, "Genuine Risk," and its father "Man o' War," perhaps the greatest racehorse who ever lived, one's grandfather "Secretariat"--who was the first horse to cover the1 1/4 -mile Derby track in under two minutes, and one's grandmother the 1915 Derby winner, "Regret," and nothing was guaranteed. Far from it.
Indeed, some of the colts who produced champions could make one blink with disbelief. One such was "Reigh Count," a colt owned by John D. Hertz, a wily ex-boxer who owned the Yellow Cab Company and who would go on to start Hertz Rent A Car. Reigh Count won the 1928 Kentucky Derby as well as other significant stakes races, including the Saratoga Cup, the Huron Handicap, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and, in England, the Ascot Gold Cup. After he retired to stud, Reigh Count was a successful sire for the Hertzes, but none of his offspring was a Derby winner. Then Hertz, ever the innovator, had a crazy idea: Instead of breeding or mating Reigh Count to famous, high-priced mares, he bred him--mystifyingly--to a tired old horse named, ironically, "Quickly."