It was a "Barbaro Christmas" at the New Bolton Medical Center. America's favorite horse, who this year was given the greatest gift of all, has been inundated with Christmas presents and cards from his ever-growing legion of fans and admirers from around the country.
The scene at New Bolton was right out of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Just looking at the Christmas decorations, presents, and cards for Barbaro posted all over the lobby, and feeling all the caring and love that abounds, all that is missing is Tiny Tim throwing away his crutch and toasting, "God bless us, everyone."
And in its own way, that could very well be happening as well, as there is now talk of Barbaro's release from the hospital in the "not so distant future."
So, gather the carolers and break out in song for Barbaro: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas; Make the Yule-tide gay; From now on, your troubles will be miles away."
"Barbaro's been receiving lot of Christmas cards and holiday cards," said Jennifer Rench, New Bolton's marketing and communication coordinator. "He received a beautiful winter blanket from Churchill Downs with his name and the Derby logo embroidered on it. And his fans sent a Christmas tree for Barbaro and for New Bolton Center with beautiful glass hand-painted ornaments on it. On each one is a fan's name and where they're from. The tree is in the lobby of the hospital.
"Gift baskets have been coming pretty much every day, filled with carrots, apples, peppermints, and horse treats for Barbaro, and for the other patients in the Intensive Care Unit. Barbaro loves peppermints. Last week, he received a gorgeous wreath made out of carrots. It was really incredible. Some people have also sent gift baskets for the staff, containing things like coffee and chocolate."
As for Barbaro himself, Dr. Dean Richardson, who has become racing's rock star this year, says they will not wait until Christmas morning to give Barbaro his presents.
"You can assure the world we do not put perishables under a tree," said Richardson, who will be spending Christmas day with his mother. "He's been getting plenty of presents, but fortunately they've been sensible things like apples and carrots, and his share of gift baskets. He does have a stocking hanging on his door, and he has a Santa Claus hat with his name on it, which we won't put on his head. But it does have a little part to it where you can attach it to a halter. And the nurses did take a picture of him with it on for their Christmas card. So, he's in the Christmas spirit I'm sure."
Richardson said Christmas day will be pretty much like any other day for Barbaro. "He'll have the bandage on his left hind foot changed, and he'll get his Bute and some antibiotics and that's pretty much it," he said. "He'll get fed four times, as usual, and get taken for his walk. As far as anything else that you want to embellish, like leaving cookies out for Santa Claus, feel free to do so if you wish. And you can say that we'll make sure the bandage on his foot is red and green."
Rench said Barbaro continues to be the center of attention. "The outpouring from the fans and the media has been absolutely amazing," she said. "And it's been pretty much constant the whole time he's been here. It's brought so much good to the sport and to veterinary medicine. It's just been a great experience."
All one has to do to witness that outpouring is stop and look at the numerous signs on the fence outside the entrance to New Bolton, such as "Grow hoof grow," "Believe in Barbaro," and "Precious Barbaro, you are our hero." Most of the signs are adorned with ribbons, photos of Barbaro, and, of course, hearts.
And so, we close by returning to song:
"Through the years we all will be together,
If the Fates allow,
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now."