KENNETT SQUARE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was put to death on Monday, ending an eight-month drama and outpouring of public support after the colt shattered his right hind leg in the Preakness Stakes.
Veterinarians and Barbaro’s owners went to great lengths to save the horse, which won the Derby, the most famous contest in U.S. horse racing, by a whopping 6-1/2 lengths on May 6.
He was favored to win the second leg of the sport’s U.S. triple crown three weeks later at the Preakness Stakes when he pulled up lame in front of millions of television viewers.
As get-well cards and baskets of fruit poured in for the horse, veterinarians had fought to save him through a series of surgeries, recoveries and setbacks.
But after surgery on Saturday to support the injured leg, and with all four of Barbaro’s feet ailing, the veterinarian in charge and co-owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson decided to put the champion “down,” or euthanize him, because he was in too much pain.
“He was just a different horse. You could see he was upset,” Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, told a news conference.
“I knew that if this day came it would be difficult to keep my composure. It’s not the first horse I have cried over.”
Gretchen Jackson asked well-wishers to say a prayer for the horse, an undefeated 3-year-old when the Preakness bell rang.
“I hope that we can turn our love into an energy that will support horses throughout the world,” she said.
Because of his dominating performance in the Kentucky Derby, Barbaro was seen as a candidate to take horse racing’s first triple crown since Affirmed won it in 1978.
The three consecutive high-stakes races are staged for 3-year-old thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in New York.
There was a collective gasp from the crowd at Pimlico Race Course as Barbaro, right after the race’s start, lifted his damaged leg off the ground. Jockey Edgar Prado jumped off and frantically tried to calm the horse while the race continued.
Richardson’s team first repaired the shattered bone with 27 screws in an operation at the New Bolton Center last year.
In July, Barbaro developed laminitis, a painful condition caused by excessive weight on one leg because of an injury to another, and Richardson was forced to remove the hoof wall from the left hind leg. Laminitis later afflicted his front feet.
After July, the horse began to improve, taking a 20-minute daily walk at the veterinary hospital in eastern Pennsylvania.
But Barbaro suffered a significant setback with an abscess in his right hind foot, requiring surgery over the weekend.
A horse with Barbaro’s injury normally would have been put down, but the Jacksons were determined to save him if he could live without pain. Richardson would not disclose the cost.
Already in a sling and getting intravenous medicine, the champion was put down with a dose of tranquilizers followed by an overdose of anesthetic after Richardson and the Jacksons offered a few private words with Barbaro.
“People love greatness,” Richardson said. “And the story of his greatness.”