Barbaro, a huge colt foaled by a Carson City mare, and his sire Dynaformer, was set to make his debut. Ironic enough, the horse that changed my life, and truly sparked my love for handicapping and wagering, his maiden was playing on TVG when I walked into my friend's house to help him fix his house up a bit. He, a professional handicapper, told me to watch this race with him before we got to work.
I distinctively recall him saying this word for word "This horse's name is Barbaro, Ed. He has the best stride, better than Ruffian's." I gave him one of my "What the hell are you talking about?" looks. He told me he put $1,000 on him to show. I was speechless, and he was waiting for me to respond, luckily I was saved by the bell.
Barbaro was tough to load, I recall, but once he got in, it was all business. Barbaro was sitting just off the pace. My friend sat there contently, watching a horse he put a lot of money on. I kept switching back and forth from my friend's face to the screen until the half mile pole. With a light tap on the shoulder from then jockey, Caraballo, Barbaro swept to the lead, reminding me much like Cigar, moving with a "dramatic rush"....
I could not look back at my friend's face, because my eyes were glued to that colt by Dynaformer. The bay colt simply ran away, to win by eight lengths. My friend didn't look amazed, or shocked, but I sat there in awe, watching a maiden bob his head up and down in the winner's circle, clearly satisfied with his own performance. My friend called me over to the backyard to paint the side, and put up a basketball hoop for his son. For the first hour, my mind never left Barbaro. I kept thinking of how he just destroyed the field, as easy as counting to three. I finally told myself, "Come on, Ed! It's just a maiden win, let it go!"
But, it was more than a maiden win, it was the beginning of a legacy. My friend and I arranged plans to go to the track for Barbaro's next race, the Laurel Futurity, contested at a 1 1/16 mile on the turf again, while our wives went to go to some chick flick. He bet him $600 to place, while I bet my standard $20 place.
Once again, my eyes were glued to the TV screen. The big bay colt sat off the lead so calmly, so mature. At the half mile pole, Barbaro came within a head of his opponent, and in the stretch, pulled away driving. Barbaro had won by eight lengths, he posted a very impressive 102 Beyer, very uncommon for a two year old, let alone any horse. Yet again, I spent more time thinking about Barbaro.
His next race was The Tropical Derby on New Year's Day. It was his first of three preps going nine furlongs. This time however, I was alone, sick, watching it on the coach, no bets. New jockey, Edgar Prado, was on board. The classy guy on top of Barbaro, sat contently and calm two and a half lengths off the leader. I watched Barbaro explode into the stretch, and despite having the flu, I found my voice louder than I have ever heard yelling "Oh my gosh!!! What a horse!!!! Go Barbaro! Go!!!!" Barbaro easily won the Tropical Park Derby by almost four lengths, embarrassing his opponents with his high knee kick, and his big hindquarters, which is all they were able to look at.
Race by race, my love for Barbaro drew stronger, that wouldn't change in his next race, the Holy Bull. His first ever try on the brown stuff happened to be sloppy. Would it bother Barbaro? I asked myself questions, almost doubting his ability. Can a Dynaformer colt handle dirt? Barbaro this time was very close to the lead, and overtook it again at the half mile. He was up by 1 1/2 lengths at the top of the stretch, but only won by 3/4 of a length. Despite not winning by much, I was still impressed with him, because he wouldn't allow a horse by him.
Day by day, I crossed off squares on my calendar, eagerly awaiting the Florida Derby. When April 1st finally came, me and my best friend went to Gulfstream to watch Barbaro. We stood right near the finish line, binoculars in our hand. But, before that, we went to the paddock to observe the young colts about to travel nine furlongs on a fast track.
I scanned for Barbaro. Where is he? And why was a quarter horse in the paddock? I was confused, until I saw Lael's Stable's silks, and a short man hop on the "quarter horse." It was Barbaro. He was silently strolling, but to me, he looked as if he was ready to run.
We headed back to the grandstand. While they loaded in, I stared at my ticket. It was the largest bet I have ever made to date, I was wondering if Barbaro really was what I thought he was. I trusted my friend's opinion, but not mine.
He broke sharp and alert, and went to his normal second place position. My friend was munching on a cheeto, like he was on vacation, as I was shaking, sweating, and jumping up and down. Barbaro did what he normally did. He went for the lead at the half mile pole. However, his opponent Sharp Humor wouldn't let him get away that easy. Barbaro for the first time in his life was REALLY tested. Would he lose for the first time? Would I lose my large win bet?
They entered the stretch, and everyone in the crowd stood to watch a duel, almost like Alydar and Affirmed. The excitement and anxiety got the best of me, and I stopped thinking about the ticket. I found my self screaming Barbaro home. Sharp Humor passed him, but Barbaro fought back game as can be. He won the race by only a half length. For some reason, it impressed me the most.
As we left the track, no one seems as impressed with Barbaro as my friend and I did. I asked him why and he told me word for word: "Sit back and enjoy the odds, Ed. Any horse with all the talent in the world and the heart of a champion is a monster."
My brother called me to discuss the derby, days before it. I refused to handicap it. I thought things through, as he was questioning my IQ for not even handicapping it. It was late at night, and I fell asleep. I had a dream of Barbaro, for some reason with Jerry Bailey on his back, and Bill Mott by his side, in the Belmont winning circle. I thoroughly recall myself interviewing Bill Mott "Your horse just won the triple crown, HOW good is he?" It might sound strange, but I'm dead serious. I was the interviewer, Mott was the trainer, Bailey was the jockey. I woke up screaming. I fell right back asleep. This time with the correct people, I saw Barbaro win the Kentucky Derby by five lengths.
The Kentucky Derby was the next day. My friend generally bets $100-$1,000 per race, but he has a self imposed limit of $100 in the Run for the Roses. We partnered up, betting $200 to win, each paying/receiving half of the ticket. I didn't know who was running against him, nor what his post was, or anything. I shot a video of myself predicting him the Triple Crown, I knew he was going to do it.
The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports was off. Barbaro stumbled at the gate, but remained position. Around the first turn, he was sitting fourth, with three pacemakers in front of him. I knew he was going to win after the first turn, but I kept watching, with my three year old in my arms, my best friend next to me, my dog licking my toes, and my wife picking which one had the best name. Around the turn, Barbaro loomed five wide on his competitors, and passed them with little urging. Barbaro completely ran off. Ears pricked, wings flapping. Prado was sitting motionless. I was thinking to myself, I didn't see the second Secretariat, rather the first Barbaro. I was thinking to myself "He is the best horse I have ever seen."
As you all know, Barbaro broke through the gate at Pimlico. He was loaded in and broke early, without checking his legs, he loaded yet again. This time, he broke last, and immediately favored his, what I believe was his right hind leg. Prado jumped off, and supported Barbaro with his shoulder until vets arrived. Barbaro died eight months later. My son made a card for him, and I even donated all my earnings made by Barbaro for research on laminitis.
I believe everything has a purpose in life. I think Barbaro's purpose was to shine, and bring attention to the sport. He was what truly sparked my interest in the wagering aspect of the sport. The thrill of watching your derby horse win, or seeing a long shot shock everybody but you and win. After thoroughly following Barbaro's short, yet great career, I then realized it is not about the destination, but the journey.
Those seven months were the most joyous, exciting, fun time of my life. He didn't fulfill my prediction to win the triple crown, he didn't surpass Secretariat for the best horse of all time, he only lived four years, but the memories he brought to me will last a lifetime.
That was Barbaro. The best that never was.
By Ed (a.k.a Rafirox)