A weekend with Barbaro

This TV stuff gets in the way. Haven’t had a chance to write anything for the web since Barbaro grotesquely broke down just seconds into the Preakness Stakes.

Spent all day Sunday and most of Monday at the Widener Hospital for Large Animals, which is part of the New Bolton Center, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, in Kennett Square, PA.

Getting all that straight was hard enough, then the doctors started talking about things like sesamoid fractures and proximal phalanx bones. Watching the Chief of Surgery, Dr. Dean Richardson, spell out every technical term for the legion of reporters offered a rare moment of levity on Sunday afternoon. I could see the wheels grinding in his head, “I go through all those years of school, become the best horse surgeon in the country, so that I can explain how to spell?”

Clearly, putting this story together was to require a little more thought than say a Maryland Lacrosse Final Four Preview (which by the way is spectacular and airs Friday night on 11 News at 11).

Dr. Richardson kicked things off Sunday around 12:30 PM with a press conference explaining just how brutal the injuries were for the Kentucky Derby Champion. “It’s just about as bad as it can be.” Dr. Richardson though would not speculate on the possibilities for a successful surgery.

However, made abundantly clear, if this horse were not worth millions in stud fees, he would not have been brought to the New Bolton Center. He already would have been put down at the track. Dr. Richardson seemed somewhat humbled by that reality, but stated it clearly.

That’s not a slam on the industry, no indictment of Barbaro’s owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson. Would you spend six figures to save your dog? Destroying a horse with a broken leg is a terribly sad but hard fact of horse racing.

Turns out, Dr. Richardson and his team performed so brilliantly, Barbaro has a good chance for survival. Possible complications may still arrive including infection and reduced blood supply, but as any doctor will tell you, if you’re in good shape your chance for healing grows. Winning the Derby by six and a half lengths leads me to believe he can do some cardio.

Waiting though to find out how surgery went proved tough. Sports photographer Jim Forner and I put together a story from the press conference, figuring it would never make air, but just in case we didn’t yet know the outcome. Surely by say 5:00 we’d know Barbaro’s fate. Instead, we learned a lovely lesson on readiness without suffering any consequences. Did the story for the 6:00 News on his current status, only knowing that Barbaro was soon out of surgery.

The wait continued until 7:45 PM, nearly seven hours after surgery began, and then it ended. Not for the rest of the media, just for me and Jim. We had to leave the Widener Animal Hospital for Large Animals at the New Bolton Center University of Pennsylvania (just to prove I could still spit it out). Anchor duties called and we had an hour and a half drive back to WBAL. I’ve never had to leave before a story was finished like that. It’s a miserable feeling. Sometime then around the Chesapeake House exit on I-95 we learned Barbaro had survived the surgery. At least there was that.

The story of Barbaro has opened debate about what some are calling the impending doom of horse racing. The possible destruction of such a magnificent animal shows the horror of the sport. Now they say, people will stay away.

I’m not buying it. If nobody cared that Barbaro suffered horribly, but miraculously survived, then I’d say you have a problem. And trust me, there were more well wishers delivering presents and notes of hope to the horse than for any other patient ever at the New Bolton Center. Barbaro had people care about horse racing for more than just a couple of Saturdays in May. And as long as apathy stays away, horse racing will survive.

e-mail Pete

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