Barbaro, the imposing dark-bay colt many believed was the best hope for a Triple Crown in a generation, broke down Saturday with two fractures in his right hind leg shortly after the start of the Preakness Stakes and will not race again, with his survival in doubt.
The Kentucky Derby winner delayed the start by breaking through the gate early, then returned for the official start only to suffer a fracture above the ankle seconds into the race. He suffered a devastating second fracture below the ankle before jockey Edgar Prado could pull him up.
"No chance he will race again. No chance," said Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian at Pimlico Race Course who is an equine surgeon in Lexington, Ky.
The crucial issue for Barbaro's survival, which could be determined in a matter of hours or ultimately in months, is whether there is sufficient blood supply in the leg for the injury not only to be repaired but to heal.
"If a horse has no blood supply and no chance to repair the injury, in that case euthanasia [is the option]," Bramlage said.
"This is a very serious injury."
After examinations of the horse Saturday night at a University of Pennsylvania veterinary hospital, surgery was scheduled for this afternoon, said Gail Luciani, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
Bernardini, a well-bred son of A.P. Indy who had run only three races, went on to win the Preakness by 5 1/4 lengths in 1 minute 54.65 seconds. But the eyes of much of the record 118,402 at Pimlico Race Course remained on Barbaro and the scene unfolding in front of the grandstand.
An equine ambulance raced to Barbaro, with some spectators crying out for veterinarians not to euthanize the horse on the track.
Trainer Michael Matz, one of the heroes among the survivors of a 1989 United Airlines crash that killed 112 people near Sioux City, Iowa, clambered from his box seat and went onto the track.
Barbaro, kicking his hind leg, was loaded into the ambulance and taken to the barn, where he remained for about an hour after the race as he was X-rayed, treated and sedated. He was taken away by ambulance, with a police escort helping the vehicle maneuver through the traffic outside the gates.
The horse was taken to George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., not far from the Philadelphia-area home of owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson, where surgeons began to assess whether he was fit to have surgery after he arrived at about 9 p.m. EDT.
"It's sad. We expected being beaten, yes. We didn't expect this," said Gretchen Jackson, whose horse had inspired hopes of the first sweep of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes since Affirmed did it in 1978.
"I'm sure [people] are sorry," Jackson said. "You had to love him."
Bramlage said he didn't believe Barbaro's false start had anything to do with the injury, and that he appeared to return to the gate in good order.
Jockey Edgar Prado said the horse was "feeling good" before the race.
"When he went to the gate, he was feeling super and I felt like he was in the best condition for this race. He actually tried to buck me off a couple of times," Prado said. "He just touched the front of the doors of the gate and went right though it.
"During the race, he took a bad step and I can't really tell you what happened. I heard a noise about a hundred yards into the race and pulled him right up."
Matz accompanied the horse on the trip and did not speak with reporters at the track. Later, at the hospital, he told the Associated Press, "Two weeks ago we were on such a high and this is our worst nightmare. Hopefully, everything will go well with the operation and we'll be able to save him."
Nick Zito, trainer of Hemingway's Key, third behind Bernardini and Sweetnorthernsaint, spoke for horsemen.
"The whole story is this," he said. "Let's just hope Barbaro lives."
The scene was one that made racing veterans recall other wrenching moments, such as jockey Chris Antley cradling the ankle of Charismatic after the finish of the 1999 Belmont Stakes, actions that were credited with helping save the horse's life.
In the 1993 Preakness, Union City broke down and was euthanized. In 1990, Go For Wand broke down in the stretch of the Breeders' Cup Distaff and was euthanized, and in 1975, Ruffian broke down in a match race with Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park and was later euthanized.
Saturday's race was billed as the toughest remaining test of a Triple Crown run for undefeated Barbaro, considered to have the stamina and breeding to win the usually decisive Belmont Stakes.
In the Preakness, the colt was expected to vie with Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek and Illinois Derby winner Sweetnorthernsaint, the only two Kentucky Derby starters bold enough to challenge Barbaro after his 6 1/2 -length victory at Churchill Downs, the largest margin in 60 years.
Brother Derek, who was behind Barbaro when the favorite broke down, finished fourth, more than 15 lengths back.
"We had to go around Barbaro, and that puts your horse 'on the muscle' more than you want," said Dan Hendricks, Brother Derek's trainer. "I can't feel bad for what happened to my horse after seeing what happened to the other horse. I feel really sorry for Michael in that situation."
At the barn before the race, Matz had leaned over to shake Hendricks' hand and wish him good luck. "You too," Hendricks said.
"I just feel really bad for the other team," Hendricks said afterward. "You don't want to see that happen."
Bernardini became the first winner of the 1 3/16 -mile Preakness who didn't run in the Derby since Red Bullet in 2000 and only the second in more than two decades.
Bernardini paid $27.80 to win, the eighth-largest payoff in Preakness history.
In the hours afterward, Barbaro's condition remained on the minds of many.
"He has two major things to overcome," Bramlage said. "One, when he was injured, did he damage the blood supply enough that he [lacks the necessary] blood supply to support healing? ... The blood supply to that part of the limb is very limited because they don't have any muscle there.
"The second thing is he will have to undergo surgery that would put you or I in bed. He'll have to walk around."
At the Pennsylvania veterinary hospital Saturday night, surgeons began to assess Barbaro's condition, feeling his leg to see if warmth indicated sufficient circulation for surgery.
The injury, Bramlage said, is clearly life-threatening, and the road to any recovery would be lengthy.
"It will be two months before we know that he is going to recover enough that we don't have to worry about saving his life, and sometimes longer," Bramlage said.
"I can't give a prognosis."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times