The first horse that entered my consciousness though I was too young to have appreciated his greatness was the magnificent Irish racehorse, Arkle, a champion and legend. Another very famous Irish steeplechaser was Shegar, though he was stolen in his prime from his stable and never recovered--presumed shot when the thieves (many theories abound as to who they were) could not get the owners (a consortium) to pay the two million pound ransom they were demanding.
The next legend was the diminutive Stroller (14.2 hands), a show-jumper ridden by Marion Coakes who was famous when I was a boy. God, I loved watching the spellbinding beauty as the pair of them soared with ease over the jumps at various competitions including the great win at Hickstead. (He died in 1986 of a heart attack at the age of 36.)
Captivating me after that was Red Rum. I was still a teenager and he won the Grand National three times and all of Britain and Ireland loved him. I wagered for the first time in my life on him and won a tenner. (He died at age 30 in 1995 and is buried near the starter post at Aintree.)
And then came Pennsylvania's Barbaro. How we rooted for him to win the triple crown and how we watched in agony as he sustained a terrible injury during the initial stages of the race and had to be withdrawn.
I was filled with respect for his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who did not bow to the call of greed by having him destroyed as so many owners do in order to cash in their multi-million dollar insurance policy. They knew their horse. They knew his indomitable spirit and will to live. They loved him.
And he improved, thanks to the care of his wonderful vet Dr. Richardson and the team at Penn's veterinary medicine department, and we all believed he was going to win his fight and retire to the meadow, retire just as Smarty Jones did the previous year, retire as is the right of all good racehorses.
It was not to be. Another infection came and he tried to overcome the odds. But it was not to be. On this day of first snow in the commonwealth, Pennsylvanians learned at ten o' clock in the morning from a sad yet resigned co-owner and from an emotional vet that it was 'enough' and they'd put their beloved horse and spirited hero, Barbaro, to sleep. He'd fought but in the end could not overcome this new infection arising from that complex fracture he'd sustained on that fateful day at The Preakness. He'd had good days during this extended eight months of life, but he'd also had much pain and enough was enough.
Farewell trusty Barbaro