By I.A. Stewart
Barbaro will not soon be forgotten.
America’s favorite thoroughbred was finally euthanized Monday, following eight months of treatment stemming from the fractured right hind leg and subsequent infections of both rear hoofs he suffered during the Preakness race in Baltimore last summer.
Barbaro’s worsening condition had placed thoroughbred racing in the national spotlight more so than it had been since the early 1970s, when the legendary Secretariat won the Triple Crown. Barbaro was supposed to be the second coming of Secretariat, having won all six races he competed in, including the most famous race in the country, the Kentucky Derby, only weeks earlier.
But instead, he stumbled out of the block, and over 1,000 pounds of weight was set on his frail rear ankle. The country suddenly got a look at the grim realities of horse racing: the pills and blood thinners the horses are on to race through injury, the frailty of the breeds, the way they are pushed so hard to compete for such a short time (horses begin racing at two or three years, but are considered too old at four) and the way they are either put down or made into extraordinarily valuable stud horses once their racing careers are over.
While hundreds were dying by the week across the globe in Iraq, for some reason we all felt pain and pity for Barbaro. Watching the video of him pulling up lame and trying so hard not to plant on his right hoof seemed almost as excruciating as seeing the Iraqi death list growing longer and longer each day. Barbaro was almost more human than any of those names he shared the front page with.
So Barbaro leaves us with a legacy beyond his greatness as a racehorse. He showed the country a little bit of the underbelly of one of the more romantic sports in the world.
We spend so much energy focusing on the ways that baseball and football players modify their bodies, yet until Barbaro, we never thought about the ways that trainers dealt with horses, who obviously don’t lend consent. Barbaro showed us what we were missing, and showed us how human we all can be.