Fans entering Gate 1 at Churchill Downs may have their breath taken away when they arrive for the races Kentucky Derby week following the unveiling of life-sized statue of Barbaro April 26. The event drew a “Friends of Barbaro” crowd of about 500 who cheered with approval when the tarp was pulled off the sculpture.
Tugging at the cloth were Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the breeders and owners of Barbaro, his trainer Michael Matz, Dr. Dean Richardson of the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center, and artist Alexa King. The event outside Churchill’s main entrance was emceed by John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill Downs.
King was commissioned to sculpt Barbaro, being given an “impossible task that exceeded expectations,” according to Asher.
Barbaro won the 2006 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), then tragically broke down while in the early stages of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). His battle with laminitis captured the hearts of millions and while for a long time it appeared he would recover, he was euthanized Jan. 29, 2007.
“He was an incredible athlete who turned in one of the most dominating performances in the history of the Kentucky Derby,” Asher said in his opening remarks. “He made us think all things were possible on that day. It was an incredible, incredible day. We knew he was special, but we didn’t know how special he was until that time after the Preakness when we all shared in his battle for life. The hearts he didn’t win on Kentucky Derby day, he won in those eight months that followed.”
Asher then introduced the Jacksons.
“I’d like to thank Churchill Downs for their cooperation to allow us to place Barbaro here,” Roy Jackson said. “I’d also like to thank the Derby Museum for their cooperation and their exhibit. I’d like to thank the foundry and all the people that worked on this statue. I particularly thank Alexa for her hours and hours of work. It captured Barbaro in what he liked best, running.
“I’d also like to thank all the friends of Barbaro,” he said. “Gretchen and I don t have a chance to thank you personally, but the fact you raised more than a $1 million and saved from slaughter more than 2,900 horses is remarkable to me. It’s all an outgrowth in your interest in Barbaro over this journey we’ve had.”
“It’s magnificent,” Gretchen Jackson said of the statue. “We have all of his races on our wall to enjoy, but now I have the feeling that with this statue that everyone will have this to enjoy. This is it. I think we got it right. It’s pretty much the end of our contact with all of you. We also hope that we hear from you and you’ll continue your job of loving horses the way you have done so in the past. I think if Barbaro was here, this is the voice I have that is in me that Barbaro is saying:
“I’m home at last; here in Kentucky I entered life,
Born in a stall in a barn at first light,
Days in the grass with my mother nearby,
It was here I raced and caught your eye,
I’ve come full circle, back to the start,
For here is my home, and here is my heart.”
Richardson spoke last prior to the unveiling.
“My major reason to stand up here is to thank the people involved with this story from start to finish,” Richardson said. “And in particular, the people who have supported the research efforts in laminitis, and other aspects of horse injuries that have been put forth by all of these great fans of Barbaro. As you can imagine, and some of these fans of Barbaro know, yeah, every once in a while we make fun of you. Some of you are flat out crazy. But you know who you are.”
“The fact is, these are people that really feel it from the heart and have acted out on their feelings,” he said. “It’s quite remarkable to be a part of this great story.
“If we all had our way in this world, we’d all like to be remembered for something good that we did and the nice thing about having Barbaro here is he has the opportunity to be at the scene of his greatest race. It’s fitting to have a great statue of a great racehorse at a great racetrack.”
In the crowd were “Friends of Barbaro” like Jodie Munderloh of Baltimore and Linda Therkildsen of Great Mills, Md. They are in Louisville with a group of 18 friends from around the country. The fan club, 1,000 members strong, had 83 representatives at the unveiling.
“Barbaro means a lot to me because the day before the Preakness, both my sister and I were diagnosed with cancer,” Therkildsen said. “We could relate with his struggles.”
“The thing about the Barbaro story was that it was good to see the focus being about the horse and the wonderful people around him,” Munderloh said.