For once, I am glad to be wrong. Two years ago, I when I wrote about racing on Myspace, I asked:
Will we still pray for Barbaro on May 5, 2007?
On that day, a new three-year-old will gallop across the finish line in the 9th race at Churchill Downs, in front of God, an International TV audience, 170,000 people under the Spires, the Queen of England and 3 members of the skipaway2000 family, and become The Most Famous Horse in the World.
Will the public be able to handle 2 horses of such reknown? And what if our ultimate wet dream comes true, and that horse wins the Triple Crown?
Will we still pray for Barbaro then?
I am sorry to say, probably not. While fans like yours truly will certainly keep informed of his condition, the public at large is too fixated on the here and now. Last weekend I was at Oaklawn, where the talk was not on Barbaro, but Hard Spun. The Larry Jones trainee is on the KY Derby Watchlist, having just won the Lecomte Stakes, and he is stabled at Oaklawn. D Wayne Lukas has set up shop in Arkansas, too, and his 2 wins on the day created quite a buzz. While a few folks in my own party asked about Barbaro, no one else around me did. Their eyes were on the horses before them and the races yet to be run.
Newspapers in horse-friendly places and in cities with racetracks run articles updating Barbaro’s condition, but in places like Memphis, the last news of Barbaro was probably back when his cast was first removed. He doesn’t make the NBC Nightly News anymore. At my job, where I greet thousands of people each week, fewer and fewer of them recognize my racing pins. As usual, the plight of the Most Famous Horse in the World has receded to the racing microcosm. It was quite a run for him, though, 31 lengths longer than Smarty or Alex.
I posted that on Jan 28, 2007. The very next day, Barbaro died. I felt like crap. All of my co-workers were apologetic, and I got an inboxful of e-mails from friends and family sending condolences. It was the top story on all of the major news broadcasts, on the front page of the Memphis paper, and the most-viewed story on CNN.com.
In the two years since, people have not forgotten Barbaro.
New Bolton Center has gotten millions in donations in Barbaro’s name, to help with laminitis research.
Fans of Barbaro have contributed to equine rescue organizations, saving thousands of off-the-track thoroughbreds from slaughter.
The public, still recovering from Barbaro’s fate, demanded real change in the racing industry after witnessing Eight Belles’s death.
Today, all of the venues for Triple Crown races, Churchill, Pimlico and Belmont, are in states with no-steroids policies in effect. California, Breeders’ Cup home for 2 years, has also implemented the same rules. More tracks are going synthetic and more dirt tracks are re-evaluating their surfaces. Medication rules in general are facing tougher scrutiny.
Jockeys who are too crop-happy are being punished. Trainers who use unscrupulous tactics or illegal substances are getting suspended.
Racing has traveled a troubled track since Jan. 29, 2007. Barbaro’s memory has inspired us to stay on the high road and be a better sport.
On Saturday, the eighth race at Gulfstream will feature a group of maiden three-year-olds running a mile on the dirt, typical for January weekends in Florida. Breaking from post 2 is a bay colt sired by Dynaformer, out of the mare La Ville Rose. He will be ridden by Edgar Prado, at the instruction of trainer Michael Matz. Prado will be wearing the familiar blue, green and white silks of Lael Stables. There will be millions of fans of Barbaro watching this ordinary maiden race and praying for his full brother, Nicanor, to come home safely. But when Nicanor leaps from the gate for the first time, it will mark the beginning of a new story that only he can write.