Immediately upon their arrival at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) day, Roy and Gretchen Jackson were whisked away for a press conference in the Paddock Pavilion where they chatted about their beloved colt Barbaro, who captured last year's Run for the Roses, but was euthanized earlier this year due to injuries suffered in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Also present at the conference was Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. The organization recently established the NTRA Charities - Barbaro Memorial Fund to benefit equine medical research.
"Coming back to Churchill Downs has been bittersweet," said Gretchen Jackson. "(The Derby) was the most exciting day of my life besides the birth of my children and my wedding. We're so glad to be here again."
"We have so many fond memories of being here that we will always cherish," added her husband.
Waldrop spoke briefly to promote the memorial fund, which will be selling "Riding with Barbaro" bracelets on Kentucky Derby Day for $2.
"The compassion of the Jacksons has made me proud to be a part of this industry," said Waldrop, who reported that the Barbaro Memorial Fund website (www.ridingwithbarbaro.org) has already sold more than 25,000 Barbaro bracelets.
In addition to the bracelet sales, several sponsors, including Churchill Downs, have made general contributions to the cause, and several of this year's Derby-bound trainers have agreed to donate a percentage of their horse's earnings if they should cross the wire first.
During an open question and answer session, the Jacksons were asked about Barbaro's newborn full brother, who is kept at Dr. John and Alice Chandler's Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington.
"He's the biggest foal born at Mill Ridge this year," said Roy Jackson. "We're looking forward to naming him down the road. He's well put together, and both he and his mom are doing fine."
Regarding this year's "Yumfecta," where Yum! Brands will reward any horse that betters Barbaro's 6 1/2-length victory with a $1 million bonus, part of which will go to the memorial fund, Gretchen said, "It's for a really good cause, but I don't know if I'll be pleased if it happens or not. I'd like to see Barbaro's distance remain for awhile."
"We'd just like to see the industry in general support the fight against laminitis, and we'd like to see others get behind the effort," added Roy.
The Jacksons, who still receive a wealth of fan mail and ideas for fundraisers from Barbaro fans across the world, said they are encouraged by the widespread interest in the industry.
"Sixty percent of these fans are people who didn't follow racing before Barbaro," noted Roy. "The fact the nation would care is remarkable. I think racing is becoming more popular, and more a part of our culture.
"We have absolutely no regrets," he added in reference to how Barbaro's situation was handled. I think they did a wonderful job at New Bolton, and I hope down the road (Barbaro) will help some other horses."