Damn. That’s really all I have to say about Barbaro’s death. I thought — like so many people — that he actually might make it, might even manage to stand at stud, and to lose him like this…. Well. It was clearly the right thing to do, to put him down, but that doesn’t lessen the sorrow and the disappointment. Nor does it lessen my respect for the doctors and his owners and all the people, trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, who did their best for him.
I did actually see the Derby last year. It fell in the dull hard awful days between Lisa’s death and her funeral, and Barbaro’s win — by nearly seven lengths — was enough to make me perk up for a minute or two. I remember saying to one of Lisa’s sisters that Barbaro had been Lisa’s horse, insofar as she’d picked a Derby horse. Did I make juleps? I can’t remember, but I do remember Barbaro’s win.
In retrospect, the fact that Lisa hadn’t picked a horse should have warned me that things weren’t right. She usually followed the prep races with delight, watching the horses sort themselves out, seeing who could get the distance and who couldn’t, and finally picking a horse to root for through the Triple Crown races. She followed those horses for years after; we visited some of them at stud and rooted for their offspring. Last year, though, she was too occupied with her own body, with the progressing paralysis and everything we had to do to manage it, to do more than know who was running. I remember her mentioning Barbaro as a top choice, but her heart wasn’t in it. She was losing her race, and I think she knew more than she was letting on.
Lisa and I used to fantasize about what the racing world would be like if there were more owners who not only wanted to do everything they could to save an injured horse — because we had every reason to believe there were plenty who would do anything they could — but who had the resources to carry through. In the Jacksons’ care for Barbaro, that fantasy was made real, and it was an amazing effort. As a fan, I’m grateful.