There is no question 2006 was the year of Barbaro. The unbeaten colt was sensational on that first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, turning in a performance in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) that lifted the hopes of racing fans and signaled the very real possibility a superstar had arrived on the scene.
But it was what happened in the aftermath of the tragic Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico May 20 that brought this magnificent animal closer to the hearts of tens of millions of people than any Thoroughbred has been in my lifetime.
Seemingly all of America tuned in to follow Barbaro's battle for survival after a freak injury pulverized a portion of his right hind leg shortly after the start of the Preakness. Racing Web sites, including Bloodhorse.com, were flooded with unprecedented traffic. Network television news shows trotted out experts from the racing and equine veterinary worlds to discuss the injury and the cutting-edge surgery performed at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center to try and save his life.
Barbaro's chances of survival appeared bright until mid-July, when laminitis struck the opposite rear foot, something everyone with experience in equine medicine feared might occur. For the second time in two months, The Blood-Horse
began making contingency plans to cover Barbaro's life and death.
The son of Dynaformer would have none of it. Roy and Gretchen Jackson's beloved colt demonstrated other-worldly intelligence, matched only in size and scope by his courage and heart. Barbaro could play the role of the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man -- after they'd been to see the Wizard of Oz.
Wouldn't it be nice if some of those attributes gravitated toward Thoroughbred industry leaders?
With that in mind, here are three wishes for the new year:
Courage for racetrack owners to take a stand against trainers with multiple medication violations and the owners who support those trainers living on the edge of the rules.
Now, when a trainer goes off on a suspension-forced vacation and he turns the reins over to an assistant, the beat goes on for the stable. It's business as usual, just under a different name until the suspended trainer returns.
That wouldn't be the case if racetrack management forced a banned trainer's stable to find a new home during the length of a suspension. The assistant trainers who take over a stable were never approved for stall allocations, and they should be forced to apply for stalls as if they were starting out on their own. Losing stalls might convince owners to think twice before employing a trainer simply because he may have the highest winning percentage.
Intelligence for the Sales Integrity Program to understand the importance 21st-century investors place on ethics and a level playing field.
It's been more than a year since a panel of equine veterinarians suggested medication guidelines for horses sold at public auction to the Sales Integrity Program, and no action has been taken. A decision on whether or not conformation-altering surgeries should be disclosed to the buying public has also lapsed for more than a year within a committee dominated by breeders, consignors, and sale company representatives.
What signals does this send to potential buyers?
Heart to owners and trainers of America's best Thoroughbreds to run them more than a handful of times before sending them off to the breeding shed. Losing a race isn't the end of the world. Some of the greatest horses in history were beaten as many times as they won. Schulhofer: A Class Act
Racing lost more than a Hall of Fame trainer when Scotty Schulhofer died Dec. 14 at the age of 80. It lost another link to an era when gentlemen and sportsmen ruled.
Schulhofer had unyielding respect for the game and its traditions, and he attracted the loyal support of a dwindling group of owners who shared those values.