Watching, Waiting as Barbaro Falters

ByReporter's Notebook<br>By VICKI MABREY

May 22, 2006 &#151; -- There was a winner at the Preakness on Saturday, a valiant horse named Bernardini. If Barbaro hadn't pulled up lame, I'm not sure Bernardini could have beaten him. My money -- all $20 of it -- was on Barbaro.

It's sad that Bernardini didn't get his due that day. Yes, he got the blanket of black-eyed Susans (actually, they were daisies handpainted black with magic marker, because the Maryland state flower blooms later, in July and August). Yes, his trainer held aloft the Woodlawn Vase, and his silk's colors were painted on the Winner's Circle weathervane within minutes of his victory.

But he did not get the crowd's applause and adulation, because all hearts grieved for Barbaro.

I watched from the roof of the grandstand with lots of other members of the press. We all gasped when Barbaro broke from the gate before the race even started. For a moment I thought, see -- that just proves how amazing he is -- he's raring and ready to go.

But I turned to Horse Racing TV's Joe Chile and Lafitte Pincay III (yep, son of the great jockey Lafitte Pincay Jr.) who were beside me on the rail, and they said uh-oh, that's not good. They explained that Barbaro probably dissipated a lot of racing energy on that abortive run, and who knew if he'd have enough left to win the race.

But that's not when he hurt himself or what caused the injury. A track vet checked him over before he went back into the gate, and Barbaro was fine.

And then they were off. But within 100 yards it became obvious that Barbaro was hurt. You cannot imagine the dreadful feeling that engulfed Pimlico Race Course, as if the collective stomachs dropped out at once from the 118,000 fans on hand to see Barbaro take that second step toward the Triple Crown.

People cried, they gasped, they hugged those around them, they asked why it had to happen and if Barbaro would live. Count me in on all of the above.

The journalists raced back to the stable. Barbaro was taken from the ambulance that picked him up on the track and examined inside Stall 40, the legendary stall at Pimlico reserved for the winner of the Derby. In a few minutes, maybe half an hour, he was back in the ambulance, a police escort waiting to speed him to the equine hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.

From the assembled journalists, dead silence. Through the fence, we could hear the crowds heading home, the heavy traffic on Northern Parkway outside the track. But back by the barns, no sound except the revving engines of the police motorcycles.

Into that silence Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, rushed from the barn to get in his car and join the motorcade. Then, loud and clear, a voice rang from out of nowhere, wishing Matz and Barbaro luck.

Matz -- equestrian extraordinaire, hero who saved three children from a burning plane, trainer of a magnificent horse that so many hoped would give us our first Triple Crown winner in almost 30 years -- turned from the car door to raise a hand and answer a simple, "Thank you."

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