I've been following Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's progress since, at the Preakness, not more than fifty feet from where I stood cheering him on, he shattered his right rear leg. A lot of well meaning people at New Bolton’s equine medical center are trying every day to keep him alive and get him healthy enough to one day just be a horse again. They are using extraordinary means, both medical and financial, to do so.
I am, first and foremost, a Triple Crown fan when it comes to horse racing. Every year I want a winner, I want someone to break through and win the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. But every year, I am secretly pleased when those who have won it before do not have to let anyone else in the club. Horses like Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) are larger than life, and get larger each year a special horse tries and fails to catch them.
But I certainly wish no horse ill, and Barbaro's injury impacted me greatly. Perhaps it was my proximity to it, but I think also it was that there really was something special about Barbaro. He certainly could have won the Crown, and the way his career ended left an intriguing bit of mystery. Maybe he really did have what it takes. But Affirmed remains the last, and the clubhouse door is sealed for another year.
Barbaro, to me, is a living, breathing national treasure. Until very recently I felt like he must be preserved at all cost, if at all possible. Equine medicine is literally advancing around Barbaro's team, and techniques developed and used to save his life will likely help countless horses in the future. But as I read report after report about how 'courageous' he is, and how his strong spirit is carrying him through adversity, doubt creeps in and I wonder what option Barbaro has. What he is doing is enduring procedures without dying. Does that amount to courage? His left rear hoof was REMOVED after the onset of laminitis, a life threatening condition caused by keeping weight off his opposite, injured leg. Yet he 'fights on.' He even walks when led, and eats when fed. I don't know if that's heart or spirit or instinct. But I'm getting a little worried that there's some anthropomorphising going on over at New Bolton.
I really, really wanted Barbaro to survive. I still do. He is a national treasure and I'm pulling hard for him. And it could already be too late to do what would have been best for him. (My wife has been telling me this for months, by the way.) Maybe Barbaro is strong-willed and courageous, who knows? But doctors need courage too. And with all the technology, money and expertise surrounding Barbaro, I hope that if the time comes, there is enough courage in the room to say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done.