Barbaro's chances of survival a long shot
/ Associated Press
Posted: 1 hour ago
KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) - He still looks every bit the champion. Only the fiberglass casts on not one but both of Barbaro's hind legs are indicators of something terribly wrong.
"His ears are up, he's bright, he's looking around," Dr. Dean Richardson said Thursday. "If you look at this horse, it'd be hard to put him down."
That precisely is the heartbreaking task that could be imminent because of a hoof disease so serious Richardson said the Kentucky Derby winner is "a long shot" to survive.
"It could happen within 24 hours," Richardson said during a news conference at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.
Richardson said Barbaro has a severe case of laminitis in his left hind leg - a painful, often fatal disease caused by uneven weight distribution in the limbs.
"If he starts acting like he doesn't want to stand on the leg, that's it. That will be when we call it quits," he said.
Richardson, who has treated Barbaro since the colt suffered catastrophic injuries in the Preakness on May 20, said 80 percent of the horse's left hoof wall was removed Wednesday with the sudden onset of the disease.
Though he looks just fine, that doesn't reflect the true nature of his condition, termed "poor" by Richardson.
"I'd be lying if I said anything other than poor," he said. "As long as the horse is not suffering, we are going to continue to try to save him. If we can keep him comfortable, we think it's worth the effort."
Barbaro is being treated aggressively with pain medication and remains in the same stall he's been in since being brought to the intensive care unit at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals.
Until his misstep at the Preakness, Barbaro's career was nothing short of brilliant.
He won his first five starts, including the Florida Derby. His 6 1-2-length victory at the Derby was so convincing he was being hailed as the next likely Triple Crown champion - and first since Affirmed since 1978.
But seconds after the gates swung open at Pimlico, that career was cut short when the colt broke down, his right hind leg flaring out awkwardly because of three broken bones.
Race fans at Pimlico wept and within 24 hours the entire nation seemed to be caught up in a "Barbaro watch," waiting for any news of his surgery and condition.
And for the longest time, it all seemed to be going well.
Barbaro's first six weeks of recovery were relatively smooth - despite five hours of surgery to insert a titanium plate and 27 screws into his three shattered bones.
Each day brought more optimism: Barbaro was eyeing the mares, nickering, gobbling up his feed and trying to walk out of his stall. There was great hope Barbaro somehow would overcome the odds and live a life of leisure on the farm, although he'd always have a hitch in his gait.
Richardson, along with owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson and trainer Michael Matz, all believed the colt had a chance to recover.
Until last week, when Barbaro's condition steadily worsened.
The colt underwent three surgical procedures and four cast changes on the injured leg, followed by a hoof wall re-section to remove 80 percent of his left rear hoof.
"I really thought we were going to make it two weeks ago," Richardson said. "Today I'm not as confident."
Within hours of the grim update, roses and apples began arriving at the hospital, and hundreds of get-well e-mail messages were posted on a Web site set up by the New Bolton Center.
The vet didn't mince words: "It's as bad a laminitis as you can have. It's as bad as it gets.
He said he has discussed the situation closely with the Jacksons, who have stressed that their main concern is for Barbaro to be pain free.
Several telephone messages left for the Jacksons and Matz were not returned.
Richardson said Barbaro's injured right hind leg was healing well, but because a horse has to be evenly balanced to carry his weight, laminitis set in on the other foot. Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown, was euthanized due to laminitis in 1989.
"The reason we cut away the hoof wall is because the hoof wall is not connected" to the bone, he said. "If you had a nail that was separated from the end you'd pull it off. It's dead tissue that's in the way of living tissue."
Richardson said it would take several months for the hoof to grow back, and as long as six months to be completely healed.
"What we're doing on this horse is absolutely unusual, but it's not unheard of," he said. "It's a devastating problem in horses that nobody has a solution to."
Barbaro has been fitted with a sling to prevent sudden movements and allow him to shift his weight from side to side. The main goal is comfort.
"The sling is on only some of the day, when it's off, he can lie down," Richardson said. "We are not torturing this horse."
Edgar Prado, the jockey credited with saving Barbaro by quickly pulling him up in the Preakness, was devastated by the grim prognosis.
"It's very upsetting," he said. "Barbaro has shown to everyone what a fighter he is. He showed it on the track and with all the surgeries he's had. It just goes to show what kind of courage he has. He's a true champion, and is fighting every step of the way.
"All we can do now is hope and pray. We'll need a miracle, but maybe it will happen."
May 6: Wins Kentucky Derby by six-and-a-half lengths for sixth straight win.
May 20: Breaks down at start of Preakness; shatters three bones in right hind leg.
May 21: Undergoes five-plus hours of surgery at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.; titanium plate and 27 screws inserted; surgeon Dean Richardson calls chance of survival a "coin toss."
May 22: With a fiberglass cast from hock to hoof, settles into stall in intensive care unit.
May 27: Fitted with special three-part, glue-on horseshoe for left hind hoof, helping reduce risk of laminitis.
May 29: Stall at Fair Hill in Elkton, Maryland, filled by half-brother, Man in Havana.
May 30: Jockey Edgar Prado visits; Richardson says recovery still months away.
June 10: Stood in stall as Jazil won Belmont Stakes.
June 13: Placed under general anesthesia to have cast changed for first time; Richardson says "his leg looks excellent."
June 18: A month after injury, colt's recovery is going smoothly. "He's a lively, bright, happy horse. If you asked me a month ago, I would have gladly accepted where we are today," Richardson said.
July 3: Cast replaced; two bent screws are replaced and three new ones are added across the pastern joint.
July 5: Cast replaced because of discomfort; receives treatment for small abscess on sole of uninjured left hind hoof.
July 8: Develops "potentially serious" complications to injured leg; undergoes surgery to treat new infection in leg; Cast replaced, this time with a longer one that provides additional support; doctors replace plate and many of the screws.
July 10: Cast replaced again, this time with a shorter one. Richardson believes there will be "some tough days ahead."
July 13: Richardson confirms that Barbaro has developed a severe case of laminitis, a potentially fatal disease caused by uneven weight distribution in the limbs, and calls his chances for survival "a long shot."