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Post-Surgery Prognosis for Kentucky Derby Winner

NOAH ADAMS, host:

The Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, one day after surgery, is active in his stall; even, his surgeon says, has jumped up and down a few times. At the start of Saturday's Preakness race, the second race of the Triple Crown campaign, Barbaro took a bad step, as horse people say, and was pulled up by his jockey, Edgar Prado, with clearly a broken right rear leg. The operation yesterday in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, took five hours, the shattered ankle put back together with screws and a metal plate. We're joined by Robert Clark, who has written about thoroughbred racing and horses and has done quite a bit of painting. And Mr. Clark, this is why we called you. This image of this horse being pulled up by Edgar Prado was just a terrifying thing to watch, wasn't it?

ROBERT CLARK (Painter and Author): I guess people who have watched a lot of horse racing over the years probably go back to the image of Ruffian first.

ADAMS: Remind us about Ruffian, that was back in the 70s?

Mr. CLARK: In that age of gender equality, we had the Bobby Riggs tennis match with Billie Jean King and about that same time we had Foolish Pleasure, who had won the Kentucky Derby going up against the filly Ruffian. And it was a lot of fun for people going into it, they were all wearing their badges supporting one camp or the other, and it was on national television when she broke down, and at that time she had to be put down and she's buried at Belmont, where the race took place. And I think the big difference between then and now is the advancement in the technology in veterinary practice.

Barbaro's injuries were probably every bit, if not worse, than the injuries that she had, but you know I listened to the press conference last night from the vets who actually did the surgery after seven hours coming out, it was just amazing what they were able to do to actually save him and actually have him standing on that leg back in his stall right now. Just amazing the advancement in the technology.

ADAMS: And eating his food and seems to be doing well. Now, before this happened, for those who didn't see it, there was this extraordinary moment where Barbaro, just full of energy and vitality, in the starting gate breaks through the starting gate and makes what would be a false start.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Actually, I was watching the races the day before when they had the Pimlico Special and if I'm not mistaken, I think a horse came through the gate the day before, which I thought was pretty unusual as well. I mean, I've seen a lot of racing, and it's happened. But to actually see one on Friday and then see another one, you know, the very next day was I think a bit unusual, yeah.

ADAMS: And then you had, of course, the breakdown about 100 yards into this race. It seemed as is people watching this race around the country sort of collectively held their breath for this particular horse because they know the severity of an injury to a leg can be life-threatening.

Mr. CLARK: Absolutely. And what people kind of forget, because I was sitting there moaning and groaning as soon as it happened and didn't hear the race announcer anymore, but in reality the race announcer got lost too and couldn't even make the call until it got into the final turn. And if you watch the replay, they even stopped following the other eight horses in the race and focused on Barbaro. So really it was such a shocking event that, you know, a minute and a half passed before people collected themselves enough to say, hey, you know, the horses are still running.

ADAMS: Tom Durkin, the race announcer, was a bit confused there for a moment.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah, yeah. And again, he's as much a lover of horses as anybody out there, and I think that's what you have there is this, you know, concern over the individual as you'd have for any horse. But you know, this was an emerging star, no different than a young rock star or a young NASCAR driver or any athlete or someone that you start to develop a relationship and a fondness for. Because we've heard the stories of the horse, of the owners, of the jockey, of the trainers, and each of their stories. And that's how you really start to develop your own personal connections with these animals that way. And since the Derby, the last two weeks this horse has become kind of a celebrity, which isn't unusual, but maybe even more of a celebrity than often is the case. I know last year after Giacomo won the Derby, sure, everybody had heard of him, but I don't think he had gotten the type of fanfare that already Barbaro was getting.

ADAMS: Robert Clark talking with us from Indian Harbor Beach in Florida. He is the author of Dream Race: The Search for the Greatest Thoroughbred Racehorse of all Time. Thank you, sir.

Mr. CLARK: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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