Tuesday, January 30, 2007


He was a remarkable creature. He touched people. He touched me, and I don’t even follow horse racing or particularly like horses. But when I saw his story and film clips of him racing I fell in love with him. Like much of America, I wanted badly for him to emerge victorious from this battle.

Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post said it beautifully, in part,

Barbaro was an honest, blameless competitor. Our ridiculously soft feeling for him was based at least partly on that fact. Unlike so many people in the sports pages, he was neither felonious, nor neurotic. He let us place burdens on him, whether a saddle, a bet, or a leg brace, and he carried them willingly, even jauntily.

On the track, his trainer and jockey reported that there seemed no end to what he was willing to give. "Bottomless," was how they described his heart. He obviously raced for pleasure, and he ran with such dynamic abandon that he made circling a track seem an impetuous act. His effort was always sincere and supreme…

He had both innocence and greatness and it's not often you find those ephemeral qualities alive in the same creature. What's more, anyone who watched Barbaro run in the Derby felt that they saw traces of a distinct character: He was winsome. This gave his suffering specificity. We felt we knew him.

Possibly, this is anthropomorphic, and some have rightly pointed out that we should care as much about human beings. But it's not anthropomorphic to say that horses are irreproachably benevolent creatures, and this is surely one of the causes of our grief over Barbaro. It's a fact that of 4,000-odd animal species, only a very few are tame-able, none more so than horses. They are peaceful grazers by nature, and willing by disposition. Despite their considerable size advantage, they tolerate us and even bear burdens for us. While thoroughbreds can certainly be fearsome, their misbehavior is a flight response, not sadism, or outlawry. They have followed us, and favored us with their gifts to an extent that few other animals do, and partnered with us throughout history, from Persia to the Pony Express. "Gallant" is a word often applied to them, and it's apt.

Barbaro seems to have had all the virtues of his breed, and a few more besides. His character wasn't a matter of wishful projection, it existed, and was quite vivid to those who cared for him. He was indefatigable and had a high tolerance for pain. He was mettlesome without being spiteful -- and how often do you find that? He was expressive.

Well, the outcome was not what we wanted. But Barbaro was always the winner. Winning is sometimes hard to define. He brought out the best in everyone around him, he made us better than we were, and he was ever steadfast, even in defeat.

He was, by anyone’s definition, a gallant steed.

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