My Guy Barbaro, jockey Edgar Prado gives the inside story of how the pursuit of Triple Crown glory with Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro came to a sudden, tragic end.
It's the first commandment among jockeys in horse racing: Don't get too attached to any one horse. Veteran jockey Edgar Prado knows that rule as well as anyone. He has ridden hundreds of horses to almost 6,000 victories after all. But when he first saw the bay colt Barbaro, Prado couldn't help himself -- the Peruvian jockey was smitten with the beautiful, powerful thoroughbred.
Prado's love affair became the nation's when the duo left their competition in the dust at the 2006 Kentucky Derby. It was the first time in his seven Derby rides that Prado had ever finished higher than third. And suddenly, Barbaro seemed like the best bet in a generation to win the Triple Crown. But at the Preakness two weeks later, Barbaro shattered his right hind leg, an injury that ended his racing career and, eventually, led to his death.
The memory of that event is not something Prado particularly likes talking about, which is understandable. So it was with some trepidation that he enlisted former Baltimore Sun sports columnist John Eisenberg to help him put his days of riding Barbaro into words. The result -- My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey's Journey through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse ($26, HarperCollins) -- is a moving testament to the power a sport can have on both its fans and its participants. Prado gives us just some of the highlights.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT: I saw Barbaro working out at Churchill Downs the Wednesday before the Derby. It was incredible to see him. It was like a painting, a work of art. He was loving every single minute of it. I called my family and said, "Pack it up; you're coming to the Derby." I was confident he would win the race.
A RIDE LIKE A LAMBORGHINI: He had so much power. When he accelerated, it seemed he went from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. He was a very muscular and strong horse. He left all the competition behind effortlessly. I knew I was riding a champion.
THE MOMENT OF TRAGEDY: It was 100 meters after coming out of the gate. He had always been a horse that responded when asked. He always came running out of the gate. But that day, he didn't come out fast. I felt his back leg was very weak. I decided to pull him up right away, without hesitation. I wasn't thinking about the Preakness or the Triple Crown or the money. I was thinking about Barbaro. He was my partner, my friend.
ON THE FAN REACTION: It was all over the television. He was such a great horse, with a lot of talent and power and the ability to become the greatest horse in America. After being on such a high from winning the Kentucky Derby, and then two weeks later struggling for his life … People just really wanted him to make it.
MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS: I have pictures of Barbaro in my mind and my heart. No one can take those away. He stays with me every time I hear a couple of songs I used to play at the time he won the Derby. There's one in particular I like very much -- Gloria Estefan's ["Reach ,"] the song she made for the Olympics. Because that is what Barbaro did; he went and he tried his best.
THE DAY WORDS FAILED HIM: When I heard the news [of Barbaro being euthanized], I was speechless, especially since the last news I'd heard was that he was doing well and was going to be relocated to Kentucky or Florida. [When] I found out, I was in Peru. I couldn't talk. I was devastated. Then I realized: He was an example for people too. Hope is the last thing you want to lose. You have to try hard, do your best. Sometimes things don't come easy. He fought every step of the way, every single day.
THE HARDEST WORDS TO WRITE: Honestly, I didn't want to talk about it. But a friend convinced me to tell my story. Someone else was making a movie, but they didn't know the whole story behind it -- about how it felt riding him, being on top of such a great horse. I thought people should know about Barbaro from the inside -- the way he fought, how smart he was. He leaves behind a great legacy as a racehorse, a patient, and a fighter.