There was always a “PS” to the Barbaro story last year. At the same time that Barbaro was winning the Kentucky Derby, his stablemate from the 2003 crop of foals bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables was excelling in Europe. “George Washington” went on to dominate the three-year-old ranks in England and Ireland. His success must have been some small consolation to Mr. And Mrs. Jackson as they struggled with Barbaro’s surgery, convalescence and eventual tragic death when laminitis overwhelmed his recovery odds.
We never heard much about GW over here, but at the end of the racing year, he was retired to Coolmore to stand at stud. Everything looked rosy until it became obvious that the mares bred to him remained open. GW had a low fertility rate.
This spring, the Jacksons’ Kentucky Derby winner was euthanized, never having sired a foal. And in Ireland, their other star product was unable to sire a foal.
Undaunted, the Irish connections sent GW back to the track, where he had a modicum of success in a 2007 comeback career. At least he didn’t embarrass them too badly. His trainer, the ever-successful Aidan O’Brien of Ballydoyle, shipped GW to Monmouth last week to enter the Breeders Cup Classic, a race he had failed to win in 2006.
Just as the horses were preparing to enter the gate, the ESPN commentator gave a quick insight into GW’s connection to the Jacksons and Barbaro. Was it a human interest quip or a curse?
Three minutes later, George Washington was dead, euthanized on the track in front of the grandstand, as burly Curlin charged across the finish line.
The screens went up, the horse ambulance arrived. People ran up the track.
George Washington shattered his cannon bone and then dislocated his fetlock, according to a 20-second interview by ESPN with AAEP On Call veterinarian Larry Bramlage DVM of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The dislocation destroyed the blood supply in his lower leg and the trainer quickly made the decision to put the horse down then and there.
I realized I had been holding my breath through seven races, breathing a half-sigh of relief when all the horses cantered across the finish line, no matter how far up the track. They all finished, at least in the races I saw. And then, in the last race, the one horse with an eerie connection to the world’s most famous breakdown met his end.
It was not a Hollywood ending; it was more of Greek tragedy ending. I just didn’t see this one coming.