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Just a little nod to the late, great Barbaro

I know very little about horses or horse racing, only that horses are such beautiful, majestic animals. Seeing them run with such ease, their muscles rippling, is like witnessing grace itself.

A friend, who lived down the street from me when I was growing up, Ruthie Manning, owned a horse and I loved to go to the stables where it lived and help her tend it, often getting to ride it. I wanted a horse so badly, but it wasn’t to be.

I also love big sporting events of all kinds. And, though not a follower of horse racing, I had always enjoyed watching the three races that make up the Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., the Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y.

I enjoyed those races, that is, until Barbaro.

I remember all of the excitement when Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, when I was 11 years old.

In 1978, when I was a sophomore in high school, I recall visiting Billie Buckley, the wife of the Rev. Gerald Buckley, who was pastor of the church I attended in Natchez at the time, when Affirmed won the Triple Crown. I remember Buckley and his sons nearly losing their minds when Affirmed crossed the finish line.

In 2015, I quietly cheered for American Pharoah, although I didn’t watch a single race leading up to his Triple Crown win.

I just couldn’t.

I haven’t watched a horse race since May 20, 2006, which just after the start, beautiful Barbaro, who was favored to win, was injured, breaking three bones in his leg, which eventually led to his death.

His horseracing career was over in that instant. But it was only in the weeks and months that followed that the world would learn of his awesome will and heart. I don’t know what it was about that horse. I fell in love with him when I saw him run in the Kentucky Derby. His owner, Gretchen Jackson, said early on that Barbaro “had a presence about him.” He surely did.

It seems like the entire world cheered for Barbaro while he fought so valiantly for his life. And Barbaro did fight, right alongside his owners and trainers and surgeons and others who cared for him. Barbaro was a playful horse and delighted the thousands of people who traveled to try to get a glimpse of him during his better days after his injury. But with every breakthrough, a setback followed. Our emotions became like a roller coaster ride until his owners and doctors decided they could no longer adequately manage Barbaro’s pain and the humane thing to do was to euthanize him.

That was such a sad morning.

As I sit in my office writing this column, the Kentucky Derby is just a couple of hours away. But I won’t watch it today, either.

I have nothing against horse racing, though many animal lovers think it’s a cruel and abusive sport. I don’t know about that.

It’s simply my nod to Barbaro. I’ve seen the best; no need to watch any more.
Jan Griffey is general manager of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at jan.griffey@vicksburgpost.com.