Searching for a little attention, diehard Barbaro cultists crawled out of the ground and found the light with a fresh round of paeans and prayers for their fallen idol. It was like old times for many of them — a kind of an emerging Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for the rest of us. In other words, the day gave us pause, but not really the relaxation that comes on Christmas or Independence Day.
Groundhog Day arrived in the same span of days, providing a common ilk of misguided euphoria. The cuddly animal was alive and held high in the sky by a guy wearing a black stovepipe topper. Perhaps FOBs should take notice — Beggar’s Night was just a date on the calendar until someone began to don costumes.
The most bizarre Barbaro news emanated from New York City where a sensationalist posing as a sculptor unveiled his statue of the stricken hero for Central Park. Artist Daniel Edwards, heretofore ridiculed for his interactive autopsy of Paris Hilton and a nude Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug, plans to unveil his latest macabre work at the Leo Kesting Gallery on April 30. In an odd choice of words, given the prevalence of horse slaughter in the racing industry, the Meat Market district of New York was given as the gallery’s location.
Even stranger than the gallery’s address is the proposed site for the sculpture. According to a Fox News report, the questionable memorial will be situated “close to where a carriage horse died after it was spooked by a street musician’s drum and ran into a tree.” A realistic, life-sized image of Barbaro, rolled over on his back and kicking the air with the No. 8 saddle cloth that he wore in the Derby draped across his belly, won’t provide an easy comparison to a hardworking swayback. But it’s one way, albeit a tasteless and sensationalized way, to rally people for euthanasia, which is how gallery spokespeople explained the initiative.
‘Nothing to do with us’
“This has nothing to do with us, nothing whatsoever,” Barbaro’s gracious co-owner Gretchen Jackson, not unexpectedly, told Ron Mitchell of Bloodhorse.com. But argument can be found with her public pronouncement. It may be that the Jacksons didn’t sanction Edwards to capitalize on their colt’s tragedy, but how exactly did we get to this distorted beatification of Barbaro in the first place? Undoubtedly, the motives of our first lady of racing are pure. But because of a fanatical fringe, her actions require the balancing skills of a tightrope walker.
Paparazzi are tipped to where celebrities will be by agents who are hungry for publicity. Eventually, it comes to pass that a star is unable to show his or her face, unless it’s on a movie screen. Michael Jordan was prohibited from frequenting his own restaurant because insensitive worshippers engulfed him with adoration. Heath Ledger didn’t find peace, despite meeting his Savior.
Never do these things happen with people who are strangers to hysteria. The over-the-top love of Barbaro exhibited by the Friends of Barbaro has never seemed in sync with reasonable behavior. And now we are dealing with mass necromania.
“It’s just startling that someone wants to remember Barbaro like that,” Jackson said about the proposed Central Park sculpture. “I have great pictures of Barbaro in my mind. I know how everyone will really remember him.” It’s too bad that she was wrong.
Barbaro’s nose victory in the Florida Derby from the far outside post might have been a feat that defied logic. His 6 ½ length slaughter of his Kentucky Derby competitors when he took home the roses might have been genius. But neither accomplishment will make Hall of Fame voters weep for joy as they cast their ballots. Barbaro is a fundraiser first, then a racehorse. A martyr, in fact, which in more Byzantine times meant a fall guy.
Bud Selig has been questioned routinely for his complicity in the steroid-use practices of Major League Baseball in the late 1990s. The owner-friendly commissioner got a pass for looking the other way because the popularity of the sport was in the depths following a player’s strike. Prodigious home run seasons by bloated sluggers delighted a fan base turned sour by the greediness that caused a play stoppage.
Do owners deserve a free pass?
Do Barbaro’s admirable owners deserve a “hands off” for their laissez-faire reaction to fans who have commandeered the legacy of their prized thoroughbred? The Jacksons have ridden Barbaro’s popularity to astonishing heights. The champion is, by far, the reason for which repeated pleas to donate money to charities devoted to horse health, rehabilitation and shelter are pegged. Tremendous good has come from the horse’s popularity. But don’t think for a minute that the ride hasn’t been compromising to good taste and even-mindedness.
Before the week was over, the Jacksons held a press conference to announce that Barbaro will become the first Kentucky Derby winner to have his ashes laid to rest on the grounds of Churchill Downs. A statue of Barbaro in his glory — not of him flailing helplessly — will be cast in bronze and placed in a prominent place at the Louisville track.
This will give the public that inundated Barbaro’s stall with get-well cards, flowers and candies during his rehab two new altars to kneel before — one crass and the other classy. The statues won’t depict cuddly creatures like Punxsutawney Phil. But, like it or not, they’ll be symbols that donors will have thrust in front of them each January.
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom was unable to go out a winner, fading quickly in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday in his last race before retirement.
Ramon Dominguez, a three-time Eclipse Award winner as the leading jockey in North America, retired on Thursday due to a head injury suffered in a fall earlier this year.