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Barbaro Injury Changes Preakness Storyline


The Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, is recovering after surgery to repair broken bones in his right rear leg. Barbaro was hurt at the start of Saturday's Preakness stakes in Maryland. At the time, his injuries were described as life threatening. Now, his survival is described as 50/50.

This morning we've called Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for the magazine, The Blood Horse. Good morning.

Mr. STEVE HASKIN (Senior Correspondent, The Blood Horse Magazine): Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess one of the privileges of your job is you get to go to the Preakness. What did you see of this injury? How did it happen?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, nobody really knows how it happened, because these injuries can happen in any different number of ways. But basically, he just took a bad step about a 100 yards coming out of the gate, and unfortunately, he was right in front of everybody. It was just absolutely gut wrenching to see.

And when you watch a race, your eyes capture the flow the race and you know instantly when that flow is interrupted that something bad has happened. And when it does in the home stretch like that in front of almost 120,000 people, it's even worse. From a personal viewpoint, there was a foreboding feeling when Barbaro broke through the gate before the start of the race, because you don't usually see that. And I was watching on the big screen from the infield, and one moment Barbaro was in a great position, and the next he was gone.

So I turned around to see what happened and there he was on the track. And I could see him standing there with his right back leg just dangling, as if it was nearly detached from the rest of the leg. At first there was stunned silence, something that's - it almost like it was surreal, as if it's not happening. And then the mood changed abruptly when they brought out the ambulance and set up the screen shielding the horse from the crowd, because that usually is a sign that they're going to euthanize the horse.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, Mr. Haskin. I want to clarify that term, life threatening, because in the case of a horse, doesn't that mean that the owner might make the decision to put him to sleep?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, the owner usually does make the decision, and it depends on insurance. But the owner is not going to put this horse to sleep unless he has to put this horse to sleep, because they have already invested tens and tens of thousands of dollars just for the surgery alone, and then there is the recuperative care. So there is no problem at all as far as keeping this horse alive monetarily.

INSKEEP: And explain why that investment, and we have to call it an investment I suppose, as made in saving the horse?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, first of all, the public consciousness now is amazing. I mean, our website has taken triple the number of hits it's ever taken ever. And everybody is looking. Everybody has been waiting with bated breath to see how the surgery took. And you could just see from the website, reading all of the comments, what kind of national attention this has gotten. It's been all over TV, all over the national news. So they're not going to put this horse down.

Plus the fact that he is worth so much money as a stallion, regardless of how much money he is insured for. If this horse survives, he is going to be worth maybe $40-50 million dollars as a stallion.

INSKEEP: And in just a couple of seconds, is there anything about the breeding of today's thoroughbreds that makes them more fragile?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, yes, basically. What we've done unfortunately through the year, we've infused so much speed into the blood of the thoroughbred, and combined with the harder and faster racetrack surfaces, it's harder keeping horses sound that it used to be. We have a new track surface now called polytrack that's being used that will help a lot, and hopefully other tracks will use deeper cushions on their race courses.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, Mr. Haskin, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Mr. HASKIN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Steve Haskin is senior correspondent for the magazine The Blood-Horse. He is talking with us about the Preakness, where the winner by the way was the horse Bernardini. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.