They came, more than 500 strong, to honor the life of an undefeated champion.
They arrived from all over the United States, Canada, and even South Africa. On April 28-29, the Fans of Barbaro (FOBs) gathered at the Delaware Park racetrack to honor the memory of America’s Horse. They offered a massive outpouring of love for Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, and others close to the horse.
All thoroughbreds become a year older each January 1. However, Barbaro’s actual fourth birthday would have been April 29. The two-day event was organized by New Jersey FOB Sharon Crumb and Alex Brown. Brown, a free-lance exercise rider at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, MD, is responsible for popularizing trainer Tim Woolley’s web site, www.timwoolleyracing.com, the electronic meeting place for Barbaro fans. It also contains links to fighting laminitis and anti-horse slaughter information. Dozens of FOB volunteers, many of them behind the scenes, made the weekend possible.
Organizers chose Delaware Park because it was the track where the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner won his maiden race. It’s also within half an hour of Fair Hill, where he trained before the Derby, and the New Bolton Center, where he was treated after his injury at the Preakness and until he lost his battle with laminitis on January 29.
FOBs who made the weekend trip had their choice of many ways in which to honor Barbaro. Some drove on their own to New Bolton and hung a new sign on the gate. Their Saturday night auction and fundraiser at Delaware Park raised $16,000 for laminitis research.
On Sunday morning, Alex Brown treated FOBs to a tour of Fair Hill. They were able to watch a number of horses exercising, including Man in Havana, Barbaro’s half brother. They walked on both the regular dirt track and the Center’s new tapeta track. Tim Woolley invited them to come to his barn and look at a number of the horses he trains. FOBs also had a chance to meet with Michael Matz, Barbaro’s trainer, who graciously shared his remarks, signed autographs, and posed for dozens of photos.
The capstone of the Barbaro weekend was a barbecue at Delaware Park. The two tents of FOBs were filled with a sea of blue and green Barbaro tee shirts representing the colors of the Jacksons’ Lael Stables.
FOBs took part in this celebration for many reasons. Some came to cement online acquaintances and their efforts to end horse slaughter in the United States. Many came just to honor the courage of the horse. And almost everyone attended to show their respect for the Jacksons, the staff at New Bolton, and Brown.
“What Barbaro taught me,” one FOB remarked about some personal difficulties, “was that quitting was not an option.”
Would she come back next year? “Absolutely,” she nodded. “As long as I’m physically able to come, I’ll be there.”
Alex Brown was everywhere, seemingly all at once. When asked if he foresaw any of this happening when he started posting news of Barbaro on the Woolley web site a year ago, he shook his head as he answered, “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Since Barbaro’s injury, the racing community has come to refer respectfully to the FOBs as the Barbaro Nation. Never was this sense of unity more apparent than at Delaware Park on April 29. The group had already raised more than $200,000 in the fight against laminitis and saved 600 horses from slaughter. When Brown read a note advising that the granddaughter of Seattle Slew had been rescued and had just given birth to a foal, they erupted in applause.
If there was an overriding mood to this celebration, it was sincerity. The events showed FOBs who had never been involved in the racing world the best of the sport: owners who pulled out all the stops to save Barbaro, a trainer who was in awe of him, and veterinary staff who truly came to love the horse. Delaware Park renamed one of its races on Sunday after the colt.
When Gretchen and Roy Jackson entered the tent, there was a huge cheer. Summarizing what the FOBs had already accomplished in terms of saving horses and raising funds to wipe out laminitis, they asked them to persevere. Mrs. Jackson, honoring their efforts, described herself as “an FOB of the FOBs.”
It was a time of lots of tears but laughter, too. Despite the reminder of the loss of Barbaro, FOBs rejoiced in the recent naming of his year-old brother, Nicanor, and the birth of yet another full brother in April.
FOBs were able to finally meet some of the staff at New Bolton who treated Barbaro. Unable to be there in person because of other commitments were Dr. Dean Anderson, Barbaro’s surgeon, and jockey Edgar Prado, who was atop him when he broke his leg and who sent written remarks.
As the weekend came to a close, more rescue plans and efforts to pass anti-horse slaughter legislation moved into even higher gear. One slip of paper after another changed hands as FOBs gave out their telephone numbers and email addresses. FOBs also held smaller celebrations at Lone Star Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Hollywood Park, Thistledown Race Course, and Golden Gate Fields.
Until the April celebration, most estimates of the size of the Barbaro Nation were a few hundred people. It’s now obvious they number in the thousands, and they’re energetically moving mountains. As they march forward to attack horse slaughter and laminitis, they are truly the Legion of Barbaro.