Barbaro's ashes to be placed at Churchill Downs

The image of Barbaro blazing down the stretch at Churchill Downs, all four hooves off the ground as the powerful bay colt crushed the field in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, is seared in Roy Jackson's memory.

It's the way Jackson prefers to think of Barbaro, whose thunderous surge left a field of 19 fellow 3-year-olds in his wake and whose courage after a breakdown at the Preakness two weeks later made him an icon.

When it came time to decide how best to honor the horse, who was euthanized on Jan. 29, 2007 from complications of the breakdown, there was only one place Roy Jackson and wife Gretchen felt Barbaro would feel at home: a short gallop from the site of his greatest triumph.

Barbaro's ashes and a bronze statue will be placed in front of an entrance gate at Churchill Downs sometime in 2009. The Jacksons announced plans for the memorial on the one-year anniversary of Barbaro's death, a day they called one of the most difficult of their lives.

Yet there was no sadness on Tuesday, only relief and joy.

The Jacksons agonized for months on where to place his ashes, which are currently in a closet in the family's Pennsylvania home. Ultimately, they chose place a where the public that inundated Barbaro's stall at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., with get-well cards, candy and gifts during his rehabilitation could pay tribute whenever they wanted.

“After the Derby and then when he got injured, he really became America's horse,” Roy Jackson said. “We sort of felt an obligation that his remains and statue be erected some place where the general public could pay their respects.”

As spectacular as the colt's career was – his 6 1/2-length win in the Derby was the widest margin of victory in 60 years – it was Barbaro's battle to survive following the breakdown that made him an emotional touchstone for so many.

“His accomplishments as a racehorse are certainly rivaled by the courage and resolve he displayed after his injury,” Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton said.

The Jacksons say they continue to be amazed at the outpouring of support for Barbaro, much of it from non-racing fans who were captivated by images of him wincing on the track at Pimlico Race Course following the injury and his heroic attempts to deal with the myriad of setbacks that ultimately proved too much.

“I don't think any of us know how widespread the interest was,” Roy Jackson said. “We've gotten a tremendous amount of response and we continue on almost a daily basis to get some correspondence and very articulate art on what he meant.”

As painful as Barbaro's battle was, the Jacksons say it was not in vain. His plight drew attention to the laminitis, an often-fatal hoof disease that Barbaro contracted in both rear hooves before his death.

More than $2.7 million has been raised for the Laminitis Research Fund. The laminitis initiative will foster training programs and studies for new treatments of equine diseases. The fund includes a $7,000 donation received Monday from the Fans of Barbaro, a group of people spread across the country who met over the internet in support of the colt.

It's a fund that grows a little bit each day. Jennifer Campbell of Louisville stuffed $20 into a donation box for the fund on Tuesday while the Jacksons autographed pictures of jockey Edgar Prado urging Barbaro across the finish line at the Derby.

“You just see how they persevered under those circumstances, and how the horse persevered,” said Campbell, who was wearing a green Barbaro hat. “He's an inspiration and I think it's great that they chose to share him with us.”

The Jacksons have also helped raise $1.3 million for the Barbaro Fund at New Bolton. The money will go toward expansion of the George D. Widener Large Animal Hospital, and the purchase of equipment like a new operatingtable and recovery raft.

Tuesday, however, was about remembering the horse who captivated the nation.

Pictures of Barbaro from both his racing career and his rehabilitation at the large animal hospital at New Bolton flashed above a stage before the Jacksons spoke. The Jacksons smiled while watching a short film featuring local schoolchildren talking about Barbaro and showing pictures they drew of the horse following his injury.

Barbaro will be the first Kentucky Derby winner to be buried on the grounds at Churchill Downs. Four previous winners – Sunny's Halo, Carry Back, Swaps and Broker's Tip – are interred at the Kentucky Derby Museum, which is adjacent to the track.

Being placed outside the gate means fans will be able to visit the memorial without having to go inside the museum or the track itself. It will be accessible at all times.

“There was a sense of wanting to make the correct decision,” Gretchen Jackson said. “It took a heck of a long time … but we're relieved that we're moving forward.”

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