Somewhere along the line, Roy and Gretchen Jackson fell in love with Barbaro. As owners of the horse, along with countless other thoroughbreds during their 30 years of involvement in the business, the West Marlborough Township couple is well aware of the dangers of becoming attached. You try and fight off the feeling initially, but sometimes it's too hard.
That was the case with Barbaro.
The Jacksons prized 3-year-old colt won each of his first six career races, including the Kentucky Derby on May 6. His breathtaking performance that day caused most of America to fall in love with him too. Those were the memorable times.
Last Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, however, the other side of the sport reared its ugly head when Barbaro was pulled up shortly into the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes with a life-threatening injury to his right hind leg.
"We were right by the finish line, and I couldn't believe it at the time of the accident," Gretchen Jackson said on Tuesday morning at a news conference at the New Bolton Center, where Barbaro had surgery two days before to repair three fractures and a dislocated ankle. "All of us that were connected with that horse have broken hearts. One of the things that you're not suppose to do as a racehorse owner is fall in love with a horse, because when something like this happens it can be so painful. So very painful."
A day after Barbaro's surgery, the Jacksons went to visit him at the New Bolton Center, which is just a few miles away from their home off Route 926.
"It was a relief for us to see him," said Roy Jackson. "Gretchen gave him some carrots and I gave him some mints. He was very happy about that."
Trainer Michael Matz was hoping to leave his seat at Pimlico on Saturday for the winners' circle, to congratulate a horse that was now just one jewel away from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Instead, he rushed from his seat to the aid of Barbaro on the racetrack immediately after the horse was injured. The reaction of Matz, and his wife D.D., told the story.
From the thrill of winning the Kentucky Derby to the chaotic moments in Baltimore to Barbaro's surgery at the New Bolton Center on Sunday afternoon, Matz spoke about the roller coaster of emotions everyone was dealing with.
"The last two weeks have been pretty up-and-down," Matz said while leaving a press conference at the New Bolton Center on Sunday night. "Two weeks ago we were on cloud nine, but this game really makes you humble fast. You don't realize how good you had it, until you don't have it anymore."
Roy Jackson was asked why he thinks people from all over the country have become captivated by Barbaro's story. One New Bolton Center employee has reportedly received over 4,000 e-mails wondering about the horse's status and wishing him well. Additionally, flowers and signs of support have poured in.
"I've been asking myself the same question," Roy Jackson said. "I really don't have an answer why he's captured the popularity of the American people. I really don't know, but it's a wonderful feeling."
Said Gretchen Jackson, "I love Alex Matz's remark that he wins all his races. He's a striking horse and he's sensible. He's always done the right thing at the right time, and my hope for him is that he lives a painless life. The bottom line is it's not about the money and it's not about the limelight. It's about the horse."