By Ron Mitchell and Ray Paulick
Veterinary surgeon Dean Richardson and trainer Michael Matz flashed smiles during a press briefing that followed afternoon-long surgery Sunday to repair the right hind ankle of classic winner Barbaro that was severely injured one day earlier in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico. Barbaro was standing and eating in a recovery stall following the surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.While the surgery to repair the damaged area and fuse the ankle was considered a success, Richardson cautioned that, because of numerous complications during recovery, Barbaro still has a long road to go for survival. "To be brutally honest, there's still enough chance for things going bad he's still a coin toss probably," Richardson said, "even after everything went well (during surgery)."Richardson, who led the surgical team, said the son of Dynaformer was in surgery for about seven hours. He said one reason the procedure took so long was the amount of time to prepare the colt for surgery and the recovery time to allow the anesthesia to wear off.Richardson said a procedure to fuse the fetlock joint – the ankle – was successful. A device called a locking compression plate, or LCP, was employed to stabilize the injured area, with 23 screws used on the 16-hole plate. A cast was then fitted on the leg, enclosing the hoof and running up to just below the hock."He got up from anesthesia without any injuries," Richardson said of Roy and Gretchen Jackson's colt, winner of the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). "The most important thing to emphasize is that this is just the absolute first step in any kind of case like this. Getting the horse up is a big step, but it is not the last step by any means." He said horses with injuries such as Barbaro's are "susceptible to other problems, including infection at the site because of the severity of injury and the amount of metal put in the leg to fix it and that horses are very vulnerable to laminitis or problems in the opposite foot. These are all major concerns we have. At this moment, he is very comfortable in his leg. He practically jogged back to his stall. He pulled us back to his stall. Right now, he is very happy. He is eating. Things right now are good, but I've been doing this too long to know that day one is not the end of things."Richardson said one of his major concerns - that the blood flow in the areas of the injury had been cut off - was quickly dismissed when the doctors determined "he had good pulses in his feet, good warm periphery. When we did the procedure, he had good blood supply throughout.""I feel much more relieved after I saw him walk to the stall than when I was loading him into the ambulance to come up here," he added. "That's for darn sure. It was an unknown area that we were going in. I feel much more confident now. At least I feel he has a chance. Last night, I didn't know what was going to go on."A sling and monorail system were used to lift and transport Barbaro before, during, and after the surgery. When the procedures were completed, he was lowered by the sling into a recovery pool. The horse is lifted up in the sling he's been wearing the whole time, and put into a giant rubber raft that has legs in it," said Richardson, who noted the device is similar to a Zodiac raft except that it has four legs underneath that descend into the water. "The horse is in the raft, its leg are immersed down in the water, but it's staying dry because it's inside this raft. The horse then wakes completely up from anesthesia. The idea is that, if it struggles, it can't hurt itself because it is struggling against the resistance of the water (kept at about 97 degrees)."When he was ready to be taken out of the recovery pool, Barbaro was blindfolded, lifted out with the sling, and moved to another stall.Barbaro will remain at the New Bolton Center for "several weeks at the very least," Richardson said. "It's a long rehab."After that, if things go well, Barbaro would begin a very gradual return to exercise, beginning with closely controlled walking. "Even if everything went perfectly," he said, "that will be many months from now."Unbeaten and a serious contender for the Triple Crown, Barbaro broke down only a few hundred yards into the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. With his right leg flaring out grotesquely, the record crowd of 118,402 watched in shock as Barbaro veered sideways. Jockey Edgar Prado pulled the powerful colt to a halt, jumped off, and awaited medical assistance.
Barbaro was fitted with a stabilizing splint by the attending veterinarian, Dr. Nicholas Meittinis, and taken to the center, known as the University of Pennsylvania's George D. Widener Hospital New Bolton Center. Barbara Dallap, a clinician at the center, was present when Barbaro arrived Saturday night.
"When we unloaded him, he was placed in intensive care, and we stabilized him overnight," Dallap said. "He was very brave and well behaved under the situation and was comfortable overnight."SLIDE SHOW: Barbaro Pulls ThroughDeirdre Biles also contributed to this story.
Photo insets by Sabina Pierce/Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine New Bolton Center.