Saturday, May 23, 2009

Horses Aren't People

Siblings carry Barbaro's legacy, capture imagination of fans

WILMINGTON, Del. — As the runaway leader galloped down the stretch at Delaware Park, the Barbaro nation roared again.

I didn't even know Barbaro nation existed. I hate teams/horses/countries that have followings called "nations".

This time, the cheers were for Nicanor. He is the oldest of three full brothers of Barbaro, the Thoroughbred star who grabbed the attention of horse racing fans and the sports world with his 2006 try for the Triple Crown, then touched hearts beyond the track with his fight for life following a leg fracture in the Preakness.

Touched hearts beyond the track? I'm pretty sure that nobody who wasn't already a horse racing fan had their heart touched.

After dominating the Kentucky Derby, Barbaro was 6-0 and favored in the Preakness. Before the first turn, he sustained a hind leg fracture. He was euthanized in January 2007 due to a foot condition called laminitis.

More like lame-initis.

Now fans who prayed for him and mourned his death are watching his siblings grow up via the Internet and the interstates — and looking for signs that there might be another great one.

It's like Barbaro was the messiah or something. These poor fans are such devoted fans, awaiting the consolation of the Triple Crown.

One fan drove from Bristol, Conn., on Wednesday to see Nicanor win by a mile (actually 15¼ lengths) at the same track where Barbaro won his first race.

The ghost of Barbaro lives on at the track, spurring his brother on to honor his memory.

"A 10-hour round trip to see a two-minute race. It was worth it 100%," said Gregory Jones, 42, noting he shares a March 15 birthday with Nicanor.

That's... awesome. Not only did he drive ten hours to watch a low-grade horse race, he proudly notes that he shares a birthday with... a horse.

Karen Line, 43, here from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., follows "every possible detail" about the brothers on Internet blogs.

dan-bob, 25, here from internet blogosphere, follows "every possible detail" about the Barbaro saga on internet sports news sites.

"We are hoping one of them will take the Triple Crown," she says.

"I am hoping that news stories about Barbaro keep coming out so I can spur Larry B's rage to new heights," he says.

Bloodlines are studied at the betting windows and valued on the breeding farms. Dynaformer, the stallion whose matings to La Ville Rouge produced Barbaro and his brothers, has a stud fee of $150,000 per live foal.

I'm glad all these fans are in it for the sentimental value of these inspiring horses, who fight against all odds to make their owners enough money to buy a yacht for their new yacht.

But Saturday's Preakness in Baltimore, the second leg of the Triple Crown, will be won at the finish line.

As opposed to all those races that were won at the starting gate.

The long road to get there is fraught with uncertainty, and family ties provide no guarantees. Like Barbaro, the brothers are colored bay with white markings on their foreheads. But how much they resemble Barbaro on the track remains to be seen.

These horses will have to overcome incredible odds, fighting for a chance at glory, much like human sports players have to. This is such an inspirational story!

Nicanor, a 3-year-old, hadn't won in three starts in his year of eligibility for the Triple Crown. Instead of getting ready for the Preakness, he was entered here in a maiden race for horses who had never won.

So all these blogo-fans of Barbaro should have known that Nicanor sucks at winning races... but, being true die-hard fans, they still root for him.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the couple who owned Barbaro and now own the siblings, say they won't saddle them with high expectations. Patience is the trademark of their trainer, Michael Matz, who also trained Barbaro.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson spend millions of dollars on horses. They're probably richer than Jesus. How nice of them not to "saddle" them with high expectations.

Says Roy: "It would be a miracle if we ever had another one like Barbaro."

What was so great about Barbaro anyways? Six horses in the last eleven years have won the first two legs of the the Triple Crown. When you compare Barbaro to them, considering that he only won the first race, Barbaro doesn't have a leg to stand on!

Well, he didn't have four legs to stand on after the Preakness.

Barbaro finished with $2.3 million in earnings at the track. Had he gone on to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, he might have earned millions more as a breeding stallion.

And Gretchen and Roy Jackson could have bought a new horse and put him on their yacht so they can watch horses race on their yacht.

For his win at Delaware Park, Nicanor earned a modest $39,750.

Damn, that's modest.


Brown says "Fans of Barbaro" now is an Internet community of 2,000-4,000. It is a platform for horse welfare causes, Barbaro's legacy and brothers.

I sure hope these million dollar horses can get someone to advocate for their welfare. I hope the media picks up on this and the whole public can really get behind the horse welfare movement so these million dollar horses can get their story told.


Jockey Rosie Napravnik after riding Nicanor: "He was just out there having fun. He looked like he was really the best horse in the race on paper. Once the gate opened, he outran everybody."

Rosie, the horse was just out there having fun? Hey - why didn't anybody ask Nicanor if he was having fun? Oh, right, he's a fucking horse and can't talk.

Jackson says it's "completely" up to Matz whether to enter Nicanor in the third leg of the Triple, Crown, the Belmont Stakes on June 6. So might Matz look to the Belmont?

Too bad it's not up to Nicanor. He's just having fun.

"I would say 99.9 (%) that he's not going to run in the Belmont," he says.

Makes sense, 'cause he sucks at winning races.

His fans will be there if he runs. On Wednesday, Ann Pournaras, 55, came here from Fleming, N.J., to see one of the brothers she follows on the blogs.

On Saturday, dan-bob, 25, didn't have anything better to do than make fun of middle-aged horse racing fans on his blog.

"I hope one is great," she said, while holding a winning $50 ticket on Nicanor.

"I hope my parents don't kick me out of the basement," he said, while holding a bag of Cheetos.

Matz will be looking for signs of whether Lentenor is ready for the "stresses and the pressures and the distractions" of the track.

Horse racing: 90% mental. The other half is horse steroids.

"You wouldn't send a Little League baseball player to play in the majors until he's seasoned enough," Matz says.

"I wouldn't make serious comparisons between animals and people," dan-bob says.

The numbers are in the Jacksons' favor. In 2007, The Blood-Horse magazine analyzed the 11 Triple Crown winners and their 39 full siblings. Of the 39, seven (18%) won stakes races, the premium events. That's five times greater than the general rate.

Don't expect stats like this every horse racing post. Most of these posts only exist to make fun of horse racing.

"The full siblings of Barbaro have a better chance of being superior racehorses than the general population because Barbaro was a great horse," says Ernest Bailey, a geneticist at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center.

That seems like fallacious reasoning: the reason Barbaro's siblings are likely to be good horses isn't at all because Barbaro was a good horse, its because Barbaro's parents were good horses.

The Jacksons were in Louisville the weekend before the Derby for the unveiling of a Barbaro statue outside Gate 1 at Churchill Downs. Fans were there in force, wearing his blue and lime green colors. They cheered when the covering was removed from the bronze statue of Barbaro in full gallop. The day after Mine That Bird won the Derby, his team placed his mantle of roses on the railing around the statue. Roses later were given to fans.


During Barbaro's battle for survival at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, fans sent flowers and gifts and flooded the Jacksons with letters and poems wishing him well. That continues.


"There's never a week goes by that we don't receive at least one or two communications from fans. Somebody just sent me a gold cross that they wanted to be buried with him," Gretchen says.

Awesome. Horse racing fans are so fucking legit, they mail gold crosses to absurdly rich owners hoping to get the cross interred with a horse that was cremated two years ago.

"That isn't possible (Barbaro's ashes are interred at the base of the statue) … but it's still so ongoing, the dedication of so many to him."

The Jacksons probably pawned the cross to buy more horses.

Says Roy, "For some reason, he just captured the interest of the public."

I wish my million-dollar investments captured the sentimental interest of the public.

Kathleen Anderson was veterinarian to Barbaro and now is in the same role with Nicanor and Lentenor at Fair Hill.

"I think everybody wants to see a fairytale ending," she says. " … And I think the hope is that Nicanor, Lentenor, one of the lineage will come up to his (Barbaro's) standard.

I think Larry B wants to see an ending involving a lot of dead horses.

And we never know until the story is over."

I think I know before the story is over, thanks to the foreshadowing of this article: Barbaro's brothers will lose a lot of races, horse racing fans will continue to do idiotic things, and Larry B will punch a lot of inanimate objects.


Larry B said...

This is a very good post, but I have to say that the title is far and away the best part of it.

Elliot said...

"I hate teams/horses/countries that have followings called 'nations'."

I strongly second that!

Jack M said...

I'm still waiting for a sports journalist to point out that had it not been for the millions of dollars in stud fees Barbaro would've made, his owners would've destroyed* him right on the track in Baltimore.

*"Destroyed" is the actual term horse owners use for putting down horses

Passive Voice said...

"I'm pretty sure that nobody who wasn't already a horse racing fan had their heart touched."

Unfortunately, dan-bob, I think you're really really wrong on that. Which is insane.

dan-bob said...


Really? I figure most people whose hearts were honestly touched by the Barbaro "saga" already had some interest in the sport.

Whether I'm wrong or right, it's still pretty insane.

I'm waiting for one of our eight lurking readers-but-not-commenters to come forward and offer a passionate defense of the beautiful sport of horse racing.

Martin said...

I have to agree with PV. People I know who only watch the Trinple Crown and ask questions like "Do the horses come in other colors then brown?" were just captivated and distraught by the Barbaro story. How he was so valiant, fighting for his life, as if he had a knife and a spatula, while giving the what for to Somali Pirates. It was, and is, insane.

Horses aren't people, but people are Soylent Green!

cs said...

"Captivated and distraught" over the Barbaro story? You honestly have to be kidding. Seriously. Captivated and distraught over the JFK assasination... Okay. But Barbaro, I don't think so. I mean, like 25 polo horses all died simultaneously in Florida last month and that story seemed to be greeted with a "wow" and then a shrug from the general population.

Chris W said...

CS: I mean, you're RIGHT. It's stupid to be upset over Barbaro's death. But people fucking lost their fucking shit over it, proving once again: Germans love David Hasselhoff.