Barbaro was far more to veterinary medicine than a magnificent animal battling a life-threatening injury. His case highlighted the modern capabilities of the veterinary profession and, at the same time, stressed the need for more research, particularly in the field of laminitis.
Winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Barbaro sustained a hind limb fracture during the Preakness Stakes, May 20. His strides toward recovery captured the adoration of many racing fans and horse lovers, and stirred positive media attention for the veterinary profession (see JAVMA, July 15, 2006, page 185).
But in the months to follow, Barbaro was beset by a series of complications—primarily related to laminitis—that proved to be too much for the horse, even though the fracture was healing. In the end, those who cared for Barbaro most made the decision to euthanize him on the morning of Jan. 29.
From the beginning, the veterinary staff at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, where Barbaro was cared for since the incident at the Preakness Stakes, and owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson stressed that they would continue to treat the colt aggressively as long as he remained bright, alert, and eating.
Dr. Dean W. Richardson, chief of surgery at the center's George D. Widener Hospital and the surgeon who repaired Barbaro's fractured limb, said in a press conference that the colt did not have a good last night.
Barbaro's passing was a tremendous loss, but he left in his wake a gift to all horses—increased public notice of and interest in laminitis research.
On behalf of the AAEP Foundation Inc., Dr. Rustin M. Moore authored an informative paper on how Barbaro's injury highlighted the need for laminitis research funding. Released last August, the paper is available at www.aaep.org/laminitisresearchfunding. Dr. Moore is chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
"My hope is that the events over the last few months, and in particular Barbaro's unfortunate passing, have raised the public's awareness of the frustrating and devastating effects of laminitis and will catapult efforts to raise substantial research funding that can be used to advance our knowledge and understanding of this horrible disease through unified, collaborative research efforts," Dr. Moore said.
Ed Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, agreed that Barbaro will create additional interest in laminitis research. He noted that laminitis has been a priority in research for many years but, given the finite dollars available for equine research, laminitis has had to compete with other research priorities for funding.
Grayson-Jockey is one of the nation's leading private sources of funding for equine research. The foundation was one of several chosen to receive funds raised by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Barbaro Memorial Fund, which was announced Feb. 1.
"The NTRA's recently established fund-raising effort will not only keep laminitis in the forefront of our thoughts, but will create new sources of revenue to follow up on those interests," Bowen said. "That might be seen as a silver lining, but I'd much rather that wonderful horse was still with us, and exactly like he was on Kentucky Derby day."
In addition to the NTRA fund, the New Bolton Center's Widener Hospital launched the Barbaro Fund in May after receiving a generous gift from an anonymous donor. In January, Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino, a Thoroughbred racetrack in Hallandale Beach, Fla., established the Barbaro Foundation, which will oversee an annual scholarship program for future veterinarians.
"Barbaro has given veterinary medicine an update on how important it is to know how much you don't," said Dr. T. Douglas Byars, an independent equine medical consultant for Byars Equine Advisory LLC. "Barbaro has had the largest impact for research by any animal of any species. That is his legacy."