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Barbaro Continues to Improve After Surgery

Jockey Edgar Prado tries to control Barbaro after pulling up on the front stretch during the 131st Preakness Stakes, May 20, 2006, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Matthew Stockman
Getty Images
Jockey Edgar Prado tries to control Barbaro after pulling up on the front stretch during the 131st Preakness Stakes, May 20, 2006, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) -- There was more good news Tuesday on Barbaro's recovery from a catastrophic injury to his right hind leg.

"He's actually better today than he was even yesterday and he was pretty good yesterday," Dr. Dean Richardson said. "He's walking very well on the limb, absolutely normal vital signs. He's doing very well."

Barbaro was on his feet in his stall, even scratching his left ear with his left hind leg just two days after Richardson and a team of assistants spent more than five hours pinning together the leg bones he shattered in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

The surgery was performed at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.

"We've run the gamut of emotions from the euphoria of the Kentucky Derby to the devastation of the Preakness," owner Roy Jackson said. "The sad part is that -- in Barbaro's case -- that the American public won't get a chance to see him continue his racing career. Even though he ran so well in the Kentucky Derby, we probably didn't see his greatest race. But that's water over the dam. We're just glad we jumped a hurdle here so far."

Richardson added that the Jacksons' main concern was for the health of Barbaro, not for the millions of dollars the colt could make as a stallion if he recovers completely.

"If this horse were a gelding, these owners would have done everything to save this horse's life," Richardson said. "I've known the Jacksons a long time. If this horse had no reproductive value, they would have saved his life."

Gretchen Jackson added: "My hope for him is that he lives a painless life. Whether that means he'll be a stallion with little Barbaros, that would be the extreme hope for him."

Signs expressing prayers and well wishes left by caring fans lined fences to the entrance of the New Bolton Center. "We love you, Barbaro." "Believe in Miracles." "Beat the Odds." Some signs were adorned with pictures of the horse. Others were signed by families who filed out of their cars to add a token of support at the makeshift tribute.

The strapping 3-year-old colt has been a perfect patient from the start. With a fiberglass cast on his right hind leg and a staff of veterinarians keeping 24-hour watch, standing around is the best thing -- the only thing -- Barbaro can do.

Despite the good initial reports, doctors guardedly have given Barbaro a 50-50 chance for survival. There's still concern about infection, including laminitis -- an often-fatal disease sometimes brought on by uneven weight balance.

The colt, accustomed to strong early morning gallops at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., is far, far removed from that routine. His daily regimen now consists of trying to stand comfortably and keeping his weight evenly distributed. It may take weeks, even months before Barbaro is able to do more.

Barbaro was the odds-on favorite to remain undefeated and win the Preakness to set up a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes. But a few hundred yards out of the starting gate, he took a bad step, his leg flared out grotesquely and he veered sideways before jockey Edgar Prado pulled the powerful colt to a halt.

Later that night, he was taken to New Bolton. Surgery lasted most of the afternoon on Sunday.

Barbaro sustained a broken cannon bone above the ankle, a broken sesamoid bone behind the ankle and a broken long pastern bone below the ankle. The fetlock joint -- the ankle -- was dislocated.

Richardson said the pastern bone was shattered in "20-plus pieces."

The bones were put in place to fuse the joint by inserting a plate and 27 screws to repair damage so severe that most horses wouldn't have survived it.

Horses often are euthanized after serious leg injuries because circulation problems and deadly diseases can arise if they are unable to distribute weight on all fours. Also, money is a factor.

For extensive surgery and recovery, it could cost "tens of thousands of dollars," Richardson said. Many owners choose against trying to save a horse with a serious injury. But in Barbaro's case, the well-to-do Jacksons made it clear they are more concerned with Barbaro's recovery.

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