The Kentucky Derby winner broke his right rear ankle early in the Preakness Stakes and was quickly pulled up by jockey Edgar Prado.
The accident threatened the life of the 1-2 favorite and cast a pall over an impressive 5¼-length victory by Triple Crown newcomer Bernardini.
Gail Luciani, a spokeswoman for the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., said Sunday that Barbaro was scheduled to undergo surgery later in the day and that the procedure “could take several hours.
“No further information on the colt’s condition was immediately being released, but a media briefing would be held after the procedure is completed,” she said.
Veterinary experts cautioned before the surgery that it could take several weeks before it would be clear whether the colt will survive the severe double fracture.
Prado, who just two weeks ago was celebrating an overpowering Derby victory aboard Barbaro, was in tears moments after he gingerly pulled up Barbaro in front of the grandstand and then jumped off to ensure that the horse didn’t aggravate the injury. Barbaro’s trainer, Michael Matz, grimaced and rushed from his family to tend to his injured horse as the rest of the field continued to circle the Pimlico racetrack.
Dr. Larry Bramlage, attending veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said the strapping colt suffered a fracture above and below the ankle and would require “pretty major surgery” at the New Bolton Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday. He said the injury could be life-threatening if there was significant damage to soft tissue that interrupted the blood supply to the lower limb.
“It’s a serious fracture. This will require pretty major surgery,” Bramlage said. “Keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer. His career is over. This is very life-threatening.
“Under the best circumstances, we will try to save him as a stallion.”
Bramlage said a human would have to spend six weeks in bed with a comparable fracture, “with a horse that’s impossible.”
Surgery was set for Sunday at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, a veterinary facility, in Kennett Square, Pa.
“Two weeks ago we were on such a high and this is our worst nightmare,” Matz said at the hospital. “Hopefully, everything will go well with the operation and we’ll be able to save him.”
The accident burst the celebratory atmosphere at Pimlico and rendered the first victory in a Triple Crown race for Darley Stable, owned by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and his family — almost an afterthought.
The winner, who handed trainer Tom Albertrani and jockey Javier Castellano a Preakness victory in their first start in the race, paid $27.80 to fans who thought he could upend the Derby winner.
Bernardini’s upset also extended horse racing’s record drought without a Triple Crown winner to at least 29 years.
When the gates opened for the full field, Barbaro broke alertly and Prado guided the son of Dynaformer to his familiar stalking position about three lengths behind pace-setter Like Now.
But after traveling close to a furlong — an eighth of a mile — Barbaro took a bad step and then quickly dropped back, flailing with his injured rear ankle.
The 39-year-old Prado may have saved the colt’s life by reacting instantly and keeping his mount balanced as he pulled up to prevent him from putting more weight on the limb than necessary. Once he got Barbaro halted past the Pimlico finish line, he jumped off and grabbed the reins to try and keep the horse from panicking and exacerbating the injury.
Prado declined to discuss the incident immediately afterward. He later issued a statement saying, “He took a bad step and I can’t really tell you what happened. I heard a noise about 100 yards into the race and pulled him right up.”
Matz, the 55-year-old former Olympian who engineered Barbaro’s impressive Derby victory two weeks earlier, sprinted from the owner’s enclosure to his horse’s side as an equine ambulance pulled up.
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