By Anne Eberhardt Keogh
Derby fever. I get it every year. The spring of 2006 was different though. Instead of making my daily treks back and forth from Lexington to Louisville, I was going to Keeneland daily, where several Derby contenders were based.
One of the first to arrive was undefeated Barbaro. I like to do my job, taking photos, without being too intrusive. I check on barn locations; I do a walk through and observe a specific stable’s operations, talk with the trainer or assistant about my assignment and the specific horse’s schedule, do some test shots and angles, and then I come back another day for the shoot.
Each year, prior to the Derby, we put one of the leading Derby contenders on our cover. Undefeated Barbaro and trainer Michael Matz were the likely cover boys!
Matz, an unassuming horseman, wanted to give all the credit to his horse along with praise for his staff but we all knew from his days as a rider and into his career as a trainer that he was a longtime, knowledgeable horseman. The horse, like so many of Derby caliber, had a presence about him. He had that gleam in his eye and he seemed very keen with his ears pricked. Everything was coming together. I was really enjoying this assignment.
Once the shoot was over, the images were edited and sent on to production. I turned my attention to other Derby contenders that started arriving in Louisville but Barbaro was always in the “who do you like to win the Derby this year?” conversation. There were several good 3-year-olds with solid credentials. The race was on.
Derby day arrived and all the players seemed ready. It was a thrilling race with Barbaro emerging front and center on the final turn as he headed down the stretch. I was covering the owners section and once I knew he was going to win I searched for his connections. Photographing jubilation is an exhilarating experience. I photographed Matz and his family and the winning owners, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Jackson, as they were congratulated by friends and fans as they made their way to the winner’s circle.
The undefeated Derby winner was headed to Pimlico for the Preakness. Due to another equine event, I was not scheduled to be there so I watched the Preakness on television from a local restaurant with my daughter and a friend. When he broke from the gate the first time I was surprised but thought Barbaro must just be raring to go. I was just glad they caught him right away so he could run the race. The race started and we all know what happened. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. I watched the replays. I theorized about what happened. I called the photo team I had in place at Pimlico to make sure we were photographing the turn of events and were following it through at the barn with the veterinarians and then on to New Bolton Center. I called those onsite for updates; I watched television for updates; I waited.
The highs and the lows of racing happened all within a two-week period. Barbaro was in good hands and his fans around the country hoped for the best. I followed his progress online and was pleased that he was doing so well. Barbaro had heart and was a fighter. After his injury, I would check the “Barbaro Watch” button on the bloodhorse.com Web Site and kept up with his progress and setbacks and the amazing medical treatments available for horses today.
His progress was comforting to me. I had pets all my life but had never had to put one down until a month before the Derby. Beasley, our Bassett Hound, had turned 16 and within two months her back developed problems and without notice her back legs would give out. We tried medications and let things go on for a few weeks until I realized it wasn’t going to get better. I had to do the right thing for her and that was to put her down. I was consoled that I had adopted her as a puppy and given her as good a life as possible. It was really hard on me. I had Beasley longer than my 13-year-old daughter.
Little did I know that I would have three pets die by years end. One, a cat named Midnight (yes she was black), was found dead near the road in early November. And then there was my daughter’s Cairn terrier, Ralphie. Midnight and Ralphie were best friends, always playing together. Ralphie had spunk and would play ball for hours. He was loved by all who knew him. In late November, he followed a visiting dog out to the road and was hit was a car. He was paralyzed.
Barbaro’s long battle gave me hope for Ralphie. Having put an animal down for the first time earlier in the year I also was focused on the decision making process of euthanizing an animal. There is no easy way.
We had some of the best vets and technicians at Woodford Veterinary Clinic. We put Ralphie through surgery and two weeks of therapy in the hope that he would regain the use of his back legs and other functions. But no improvement occurred. His injuries would lead to more complications and he would be uncomfortable. After talking with our vet, we made the decision to put him down.
Barbaro attracted fans around the world. His fight to survive was inspiring and when the time was right he was allowed to die with dignity. There is no consolation other than to know that you did everything you could for your animal. And it’s nice to have photos of the good memories.