Life after Barbaro: ‘New’
Invasor vs. Discreet Cat

Feb 6, 2007 2:28 AM

It was front page news when Barbaro died.

No horse of recent vintage short of Secretariat generated such a media frenzy, the difference being Secretariat did it through his exploits on the race track; Barbaro after suffering an eventual life-ending injury, and waging an eight-month battle to survive following many medical procedures in an attempt to save him.

Barbaro’s 6½-length victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 6 caught the attention of folks beyond the sheltered confines of racing, but not as much as when he shattered his right hind leg in the Preakness on May 20.

After the colt was euthanized on Jan. 29, Barbaro’s life subsequently was discussed on "Larry King Live," and there was talk of burying the horse in the Kentucky Derby Museum, along with former Derby winners Sunny’s Halo (1983), Carry Back (1961), Swaps (1955) and Broker’s Tip (1933), on the hallowed ground of Churchill Downs.

However Barbaro is memorialized, life goes ever on — albeit it irrevocably altered. Such is the glory in its being.

March 31, 2007, is a date the racing world now awaits with the anticipation of a bridegroom on his wedding night. What looms is a potential showdown in the $6 million Dubai World Cup between Horse of the Year Invasor and Discreet Cat, hailed in some quarters as a combination of Citation, Man o’War and Seabiscuit, despite a limited resume.

Discreet Cat is the only horse to defeat Invasor, having done so in the UAE Derby in Dubai last March, winning by six lengths. Invasor finished fourth, beaten seven lengths in the 11/8-mile dirt race on Nad Al Sheba race track.

But there were extenuating circumstances in that race. Come March 31, Invasor, with 10 victories in 11 races and no losses in North America, could turn the tables.

"The UAE Derby was his first start (outside of Uruguay) and I thought he ran a little bit green," said Invasor’s unpretentious trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. "Also, there was dirt hitting him in the face. He had a different rider (Richard Hills) and we gave 10 pounds to Discreet Cat (actually nine, 130 to 121)."

Outside of the Fall Highweight Handicap and steeplechase races, horses carrying 130 pounds in this country have gone the way of please and thank you.

McLaughlin is confident circumstances will be more favorable this time for the 5-year-old Argentine-bred son of Candy Stripes, owned by Shadwell Stable of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum.

That confidence was only reinforced after Invasor won the 11/8-mile Donn Handicap Saturday in hand by two lengths despite clipping heels with Barcola near the top of the stretch.

"I thought he was stopped," McLaughlin said. "He showed what a superior horse he is. He finds a way to win every time. We’ll leave for Dubai on March 15. It’s going to be exciting. This horse wants the mile and a quarter and will be at equal weights with Discreet Cat this year."

McLaughlin’s entire campaign for Invasor hinges on that meeting with The Cat.

"That race to me is our whole year," McLaughlin said. "After the Dubai race, we’ll figure out his program for the remainder of 2007."

Meanwhile, McLaughlin, with a tinge of reticence, acknowledged Discreet Cat’s exalted presence, be it preconceived or valid.

"He’s a very, very talented horse," McLaughlin said. "It will be a very good race if they both run."

And with that, McLaughlin was off to his second-favorite pastime: Texas hold’em.

"I’m heading right now to a $1,000 buy-in at the Hard Rock in Florida," he said.

The homestretch

”¡ Don’t be surprised if Patrick Valenzuela, listed as MIA at press time, misses the entire Santa Anita meet that runs through April 22.

”¡ Deafness apparently has become epidemic in America. At every red light stop, the decibel level from the radio in the car next to me is somewhere between Maria Sharapova’s grunt and a Metallica concert.

”¡ Deservedly, Barbaro has been hailed as courageous. However, I think a more worthy soul is the first person who ate an oyster.

”¡ How ”˜bout them Flyers beating Atlanta as a 3/1 road underdog? What a country!