Prado, Barbaro prove unitycan solve 1,000-lb. obstacle

May 30, 2006 1:30 AM

Whether you think you can or think you can’t — you are right.

— Anon.

Edgar Prado thought he could, and he did. The 115-pound jockey strained mightily to pull the injured 1,000-pound thoroughbred to a halt, and did, possibly saving Barbaro’s life.

If Barbaro survives his traumatic Preakness breakdown, Prado will forever be recognized as a hero for limiting the three fractures Barbaro suffered in his right hind ankle, ending the racing career of the previously undefeated Kentucky Derby winner.

Only state of the art surgery has given Barbaro a chance at life, and possibly a future at stud. But pulling up a thoroughbred even under ideal conditions is no easy trick, especially when the rider weighs one-tenth of the horse. Even under adverse conditions, fate must deal horse and rider a hand each can play to its optimum.

"When an injury occurs, it depends on the horse as well as the rider to minimize the damage," said Victor Espinoza, who rode War Emblem to victory in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. "Some horses want to protect themselves and want to stop as soon as possible. But others are so pumped up, they just want to go. They’re more difficult to pull up.

"It’s scary when a rider only has three legs under him, and it’s hard to pull a horse up when the jockey is afraid the horse is going to fall. Barbaro broke down behind and in that case, a lot of times it’s easier to stop a horse. You have better control than if it breaks down in the front legs."

Espinoza said Prado was fortunate Barbaro’s injury occurred early in the race and not when he was in full stride, as in the stretch run.

"That helped," Espinoza said. "He hadn’t reached top speed yet. After they get rolling and are really in the race, it’s a lot tougher to stop them, and it’s frightening, too."

Horses are born to run and determined by nature, a combination that is not conducive to curtailing injuries such as Barbaro’s. Chances of survival and recovery are slim, as remote as finding a Johnny Mathis Jr.

"Barbaro had just gotten into stride—not his best stride—and it’s tough when you’ve got a horse that’s competitive, with adrenalin running through him," explained jockey Aaron Gryder. "Even though a horse has an injury that could be fatal, it continues to run on adrenalin. Edgar did a phenomenal job getting hold of Barbaro quick as he did. If Edgar didn’t pull up when he did, it could have taken another eighth of a mile, because the horse wouldn’t have pulled himself up for quite some time.

When a horse is hurt, you always try and pull up as quick as possible, because you’re worried about your safety and the safety of the horse. The sooner you pull them up, the less chance of more damage to the injury. You’re always conscious of that, but it’s extremely tough to pull up a horse in full stride.

"A rider can sense an injury like that, especially on a hind leg. Barbaro wasn’t stepping down on the leg with every stride once it happened. It was pretty obvious Edgar knew Barbaro was hurt right away; he knows him so well. Barbaro is such a beautiful mover that I’m sure as soon as it happened, Edgar knew something was amiss.

"On an injury to a front leg, a horse might fall quicker, or it might be more obvious. With a break like Barbaro’s, it might feel like a stifle is locked up, which wouldn’t be as serious. (A stifle is the large joint above the hock on a hind leg, comparable to a hip on a human). A horse will put its hind foot down every couple strides and suddenly it will catch. Whether it’s a stifle locking or a hind injury, it’s obvious to a rider either way. A horse is likely to have a more serious injury when it breaks down in front if a jockey can’t pull it up, because horses reach out with their front legs to stride out."

THE HOMESTRETCH

”¡ As I’ve written for months, synthetic main track surfaces are coming to California. The California Horse Racing Board Thursday gave its final approval to a regulatory amendment requiring installation of synthetic surfaces at major tracks in the Golden State by the end of next year. The rule states that effective Jan. 1, 2008, "No racing association that operates four weeks of continuous thoroughbred racing in a calendar year shall be licenses to conduct a horse racing meeting at a facility that has not installed a polymer synthetic type racing surface."

”¡ Evidence that society’s values these days are upside down: Basketball players give congratulatory high-fives to a teammate after he misses a foul shot.

”¡ A prop bet casinos should consider: Who will go bald first, Chris Kaman or Steve Nash?