A horse with only one bowed tendon would be lucky to be able to run again. A horse with two bowed tendons is lucky just to stand.
All of which makes 5-year-old Barberstown something special. He makes the most of the opportunity when he runs.
The eighth opportunity of his career came Monday at Del Mar, and Barberstown added a chapter to his remarkable story, winning the $240,500 Del Mar Invitational Handicap by one-half length over My Habitony before 23,968 fans.
Barberstown’s fifth career win to go with two thirds came only nine days after an allowance win, which came 16 months after his previous start.
The victory in the Del Mar can only make horsemen wonder what sort Barberstown would have been but for his fragile props. Even before his problems, he won the Will Rogers Handicap at Hollywood Park and finished third in the Belmont Stakes, behind Caveat and Slew o’ Gold, both in 1983.
On Monday, Barberstown earned $137,000 for his owners, who include former Texas Gov. John Connally, in running the distance of about 1 miles in 1:58.
The winner, third choice in the betting, paid $12.20, $6 and $4.20. My Habitony, who tried to overtake Barberstown along the inside in the run through the stretch, paid $4.60 and $3.20 for finishing second, a length ahead of First Norman, whose show price was $4.20. Estrapade, who went off as a slight favorite, ran fourth, almost four lengths behind the winner.
Barberstown, a son of the late Gummo, was sold by the Bell Bloodstock Co. for $850,000 at a special consignment at Del Mar in the summer of 1983. Texas breeders Joe McDermott and John Adger were the buyers who took a chance on the horse even though they knew he had been injured during a workout just before the sale.
Bell Bloodstock eventually got back a 20% interest in Barberstown, and now the horse’s other owners, besides Connally, McDermott and Adger, include Fred Schneider, a partner in the New Orleans Saints, and Texan Ken Schnitzer.
Barberstown had been trained by Ray Bell Jr. until this year, when McDermott suggested that the horse be moved to the barn of John Gosden, a trainer who had won major stakes with Bates Motel, another sore-legged horse.
Barberstown reached Gosden’s barn this summer at Hollywood Park. “He was ready to start breezing when I got him,” Gosden said Monday outside the winner’s circle. “Give Ted Keefer credit for that. He had him in Texas and sent him to me in good shape.”
Fernando Toro, who has ridden Barberstown in all of his races, had him in third place going down the backstretch, behind the mare Estrapade and Onslow.
“He broke well and full of run from the beginning,” Toro said. “He relaxed well behind Estrapade.
“When Estrapade came off the rail down the backstretch, I wasn’t sure what was going on. I decided to put his head in there, although I was concerned about making the lead too soon. He started to drift out on the turn, but he really took the bit and responded when he saw the other horse (My Habitony) coming up on the inside. He had just enough left. But he has the class. He knows what to do.”
With a horse whose legs are as suspect as Barberstown’s, a trainer doesn’t know what to do. Gosden mentioned the possibility of running him in the Burke Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 6.
“With a horse like this, though, you can’t plan too far down the road,” Gosden said. “You just don’t know how long he’ll last. His right leg is especially bad. It all boils down to luck in the end.”
Monday’s win had nothing to do with luck. It was pluck that got Barberstown to the finish line on time.
Horse Racing Notes
Trainer Willard Proctor said that the unbeaten Swear, who won the Balboa Stakes last Wednesday for his third straight victory, suffered a bruised cartilage in the right foreleg during the race and will be sidelined for at least two months. “There’s no break and he’s not lame, but he’s very touchy,” Proctor said. “Maybe he’ll be better as a 3-year-old.” Swear probably would have been the favorite in the Del Mar Futurity on closing day, which is Sept. 11. . . . According to trainer Ross Fenstermaker, Precisionist probably won’t run in the Breeders’ Cup at Aqueduct on Nov. 2 because of foot problems. Precisionist swept the Strub series at Santa Anita but hasn’t run since his second-place finish to Greinton in the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 23.
“I could probably get him ready for the Breeders’ Cup Mile,” Fenstermaker said, “but that would be kind of defeating the purpose, now that he’s established himself as a solid horse over a distance of ground. What we’re really shooting for is next year’s Santa Anita Handicap.” . . . Rafael Meza survived the rash of injuries that has hit Del Mar jockeys this season, but Branta, his mount in Monday’s third race, wasn’t as fortunate. The 4-year-old French-bred filly broke her leg going into the first turn and had to be destroyed. Meza, who was motionless for several minutes after being flipped into the middle of the turf course, missed his mount in the next race, but then resumed riding in the fifth. . . . Pancho Villa finished second Monday to Creme Fraiche, who won the Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park by 1 3/4 lengths. Winner of the Belmont Stakes, Creme Fraiche continues to linger in the immediate background of the 3-year-old title picture. . . . Straw won the fifth race on the grass, running a mile in 1:34 4/5, which was only two-fifths of a second slower than the track record. . . . Straw is trained by Gary Jones, who was at Canterbury Downs, where his Padua finished eighth in the Canterbury Derby. Come Summer won the race.