David G. Zipf, chief veterinarian for the Maryland State Racing Commission, is convinced classic winner Barbaro did not suffer his career-ending injury in the starting gate when he broke through the stalls prior to the start of Saturday's Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico.
Zipf was stationed behind the gate when Barbaro, the 1-2 favorite, broke through and took several strides before being grabbed by an alert outrider. Zipf said he followed standard operating procedures by giving the colt a visual inspection for any injuries the incident may have caused.
"The stewards always ask me to look at them (when they break through the gate)," said Zipf, a state veterinarian since 1965 and chief veterinarian for the last 20 years.
"I went through the stall he was in and followed him back around. Once he was gathered up (by an outrider) and turned around, the first thing I looked for was head trauma or abrasions or cuts. I then walked behind him as he trotted back to make sure, leg-wise that there was no problem. I could see nothing that would insult his performance; saw no problems with his head or legs. I'm certain there was nothing that would predispose to the injury that occurred in the race."
Zipf has heard the speculation that Barbaro's injury may have occurred in the gate and feels it is important for the racing public to know safeguards were taken. "We want people to know the circumstances," he said, "so we can eliminate speculation that isn't warranted. I don't want there to be any gray areas about what we do."
Every starter is given an inspection by a state veterinarian on the morning of a race. Zipf observed Barbaro and second wagering choice Brother Derek at approximately 5:45 a.m. when both went out for a light canter. Other horses are checked in their stalls or brought out to walk or jog, on request. Every horse is also observed during the saddling process by one of a team of state veterinarians and again on the racetrack as the field warms up prior to a race.
"If there are any problems during warm-ups, I'll ask the jockey to bring the horse to me and will tell him exactly what to do with him, depending on the problem I may see," Zipf said. "In the case of the Preakness, being at the gate I saw each horse warm up, and there were no problems. Barbaro looked fine. He was very aggressive, lunging against the pony, and striding out well."