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Barbaro’s death spurs race for a cure

When I heard the news last week that the injuries Barbaro suffered at last year’s Preakness were too much for the horse to go on, I felt as though my best friend’s dog had been put to sleep. Both are animals you hear about and see, and start to care about, but you don’t have any responsibility of taking care of the animal.
Just a few years ago, I wasn’t much of a racing fan. I didn’t care about the upcoming Daytona 500, the Indy 500 or the Kentucky Derby. Racing was the only sport that didn’t appeal to me, probably because I couldn’t get to know those in the sport.
That changed, regarding horse racing, in the summer of 2004, thanks to a thoroughbred named Smarty Jones.
It was the week after the Kentucky Derby, and I was spending my first day on the job with WLKY Channel 32 News at Churchill Downs in Louisville. For the next few weeks, Smarty Jones was the hot story.
After winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, by a record margin of 11-1/2 lengths, Smarty Jones was the clear-cut favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
I remember having the VCR recording and cheering for Smarty Jones the second the gate opened during the main race of the Belmont, just to see the first possible Triple Crown winner of my lifetime go down the drain thanks to Birdstone. I began to wonder if I’d ever see a Triple Crown winner.
I had never been so disappointed in a horse, and the reason was this: I felt as if Smarty Jones was my friend’s pet. I had heard so much about him. I heard funny stories, sad stories and the interesting stories about the thoroughbred. It was as if I was getting to know someone, just like a character in a movie or a TV show. Horse-racing experts had convinced me, as well as probably most people in the country, that we would witness the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years.
The same was true with Barbaro.
After his injury, we heard about every aspect of his life, and once again we became attached to an animal that many thought was capable of winning a Triple Crown.
I never have had a favorite horse in the Derby, and hopefully I never will. However, I will continue to cheer for the Kentucky Derby winner each year at the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, in hopes of a Triple Crown winner.
That’s the reason I cheered for Barbaro, too. When I noticed something was wrong with his leg, I knew it would be another year before we knew which horse had the chance to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. But I also was concerned for Barbaro.
It’s strange that the sport centers around an animal and not a person. We don’t care what the jockey or the trainer did that morning or if they came down with a cold.
Horse racing is different than any other sport because it’s the only sport where an injury more than likely leads to euthanizing rather than being placed on the disabled list or injured reserve.
That’s what made Barbaro’s story so fascinating. The country was behind Barbaro, hoping and praying he would be able to live with laminitis, inflammation of a horse’s hoof which presently is not preventable or curable. When Barbaro broke his hind leg last year, veterinarians tried different things to prevent laminitis, but for Barbaro, the laminitis was severe. Then, recently, the disease struck his front hooves too.
The conclusion to Barbaro’s troubled life is similar to what we do with our pets and makes it easier to find a positive spot in the death. Barbaro’s death has led to the organization of a fund-raiser that will try to find a cure for laminitis. As is often the case with rare diseases, we hope that doctors learn more about the illness, and perhaps find a cure or a way to prevent it from happening to another animal.
For those who follow horse racing or just took an interest in Barbaro, it seems easy to care about a horse. The hardest thing to do is give up on something you’ve invested your time and money in, but sometimes you do things you don’t want to do because you know it’s for the best.