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The question no one is asking about Barbaro

January 30, 2007

Amidst all the sadness and sorrow over Barbaro and his euthanization, one question was not asked of the co-owners and doctors, and frankly, needs to be. Is there the possibility of Barbaro-sired children in the future?

Barbaro1Or in other words, during the nine months of surgeries and rehab, was any of the Kentucky Derby winner’s seed (ie. semen) harvested and saved for future breeding efforts?

An archived Wikipedia post on Barbaro mentioned his potential value (the post is now erased, probably after the horse’s death):

If Barbaro recovers, the injury should not prevent him from breeding, and his value as a stud will probably be very high, provided the injury itself is not traced to an inheritable predisposition.[18]

Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson have all the possibilities covered with insurance policies on both Barbaro’s life and on his stallion potential, but the horse’s earnings at stud are likely to be significantly higher than the payout of either policy.

It’s not too far-fetched to think that co-owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson had some of the champion’s semen preserved to use for breeding purposes while Barbaro was being rehabbed (even though the Jockey Club, the registrar of all thoroughbreds in the U.S., does not permit insemination at this time. But that could change…heck, even cloning could be possible).  

And of course, the next taboo step … it’s not too far-fetched to think that Barbaro was kept alive for so long strictly for this reason — the high value of his seed and stud possibilities.

Immediately after the Preakness accident, sports commentators were estimating the loss to Barbaro’s owners at over $40 million, based on the horse’s value as a champion stud (which may have been as a Triple Crown champion too, if not for the injury). The insurance on Barbaro may only cover a fraction of that.

A Newsweek article from August of last year mentions this as well:

Even if Barbaro survives, he may be useless at stud, if his injuries prevent him from mounting a mare. (The Jockey Club, the official Thoroughbred breed registry for North America, keeps the game interesting by requiring horses to mate the way they did it on Noah’s Ark. Otherwise, a single stallion could father every horse in the country by artificial insemination.)

But if he proves able to breed, he could command a stud fee of $100,000 for a single breeding session, 60 to 80 times a year for 10 to 20 years, according to racing authority Sean Clancy, a former steeplechase jockey and coauthor of “Saratoga Days.” His value as a stud won’t be known for sure until his offspring start racing, no earlier than 2010; the top sire in the country today, Storm Cat, commands $500,000 for each foal he sires.

Barbaro2$8 million per year times 10-20 years = $80-$160 million!!!

That’s worth any million-dollar rehab effort, right?

No one will say that in the mainstream press, because it would invoke the rage of the thousands that gave money, time, care and love to the injured horse at UPenn’s New Bolton Center.

The head doctor at the center, Dr. Dean Richardson, said in his press conference Monday that Barbaro’s case was a learning experience, and would help other horses in the future recover from such injuries.

More from

Richardson added that he was “as comfortable as I’m likely to get” about the decision to euthanize Barbaro. “I feel it was the right thing to do now,” the surgeon said. “I can assure you in many cases I have personally had in the past, I know I waited too long. I don’t think that’s the case here.”

According to Richardson, Barbaro provided a learning experience that could help to save other horses with similar injuries.

“It’s going to be mostly specific details about surgical and medical care, which I don’t think are going to be all that pertinent to the world at large,” Richardson said. “A lot of times there are just very gradual accumulations of information and expertise. If I had a horse with the same fracture come in tomorrow, I honestly believe I would have a better chance of saving his life because I would think I would probably not make the same mistakes. I’m sure I made mistakes.”

On a more positive note, “Barbaro had eight or nine months (following his injury), the vast majority of which he he was a happy horse,” Richardson said.

Said Roy Jackson: “There is absolutely nothing we would have done differently, including the decision that was made today.”

More horse-racing industry reaction is noted here.

Considering that Barbaro’s father, Dynaformer, now gets near $100,000 per stud visit (that’s Smarty Jones territory, according to MSNBC), it’s not out of the question to think that Barbaro’s seed was frequently harvested and saved. Considering his bloodline, Barbaro’s semen/stud rights could have easily fetched that same amount for the owners.

Granted, the Jacksons have said publicly in the past that their efforts were to save Barbaro’s life and they had no other intentions, despite the potential pot of gold:

Talk of little Barbaros running around the track will have wait for now, but at least the Jacksons are sparing no expense trying to save their colt.

“If this horse were a gelding these owners would have definitely done everything to save this horse’s life,” said Richardson, who pinned together the leg bones the 3-year-old shattered in the Preakness. “If this horse could have absolutely no reproductive value, they would have saved his life.”

Even if Barbaro becomes a stallion, there still would be concerns about his ability to cover mares because of the severity of his injuries. And that leads to the question whether all this money and time would be spent if Barbaro were not the Derby winner expected to gain millions in stud fees?

“My only hope for him is that he lives a painless life,” Gretchen Jackson said. “Whether that means he’ll be a stallion and we’re lucky enough to see little Barbaros, that would be a supreme hope for him.”


Time Magazine asks if it was all worth it to save Barbaro in this week’s edition.

I ask this question instead … would it be worth it to do the same for any other horse NOT named Barbaro? Or for another horse that did not win the Kentucky Derby?

As a horse-racing fan and animal lover, I say yes.

But if I was a strict businessman, and didn’t see the possible payoff in the rehab at the end of the road, a horse with that catastrophic an injury would have never left the Pimlico track alive.

And that’s the tragic nature of the sport. Hero one minute. Memory the next.

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  1. Shelley permalink
    January 30, 2007 10:29 am

    Unless they collected him before his injury, I don’t believe there is any Barabaro semen to be preserved. Collecting a stud for artificial insemination involves the horse being able to use his hind legs–he has to be able to jump the breeding mount and actually go through the motions of breeding. With an injury as serious as Barbaro’s I don’t believe that would have been possible. The Jockey Club may eventually change its rules but I don’t see how anyone could have collected this horse in that condition. Even teasing him to get him in the mood would have been hard to manage.

  2. January 30, 2007 10:47 am

    That’s what I’m guessing…that if any such collection took place, it was done with artificial stimulation while the horse was under anesthesia.

  3. Shelley permalink
    January 30, 2007 1:35 pm

    It’d be interesting to ask a vet whether that’s possible. Horses are constructed so differently from humans that it’s hard to say. Hmm.

  4. arleen permalink
    January 31, 2007 7:36 am

    barbaro was never bred and its not legal in racing to have horse that comes from artificial insemenation. that said, barbaro does have a brother (maybe sister) that will be born this spring.

  5. February 21, 2007 1:35 am

    Signatures: 384
    Goal: 10,000
    Deadline: Ongoing…
    See Full Petition
    Email this Petition
    It will take many years for me to overcome the tragedy of Barbaro, but with the Preakness, I have watched my last race. It is purely for man’s profit that these magnificent, fragile creatures are pushed beyond their limit. George Vescey (“Racing Can’t Afford More Tragedies,” The Times, June 6) asks when animal rights’ group are going to speak out against this human (NOT humane) narcissism. I ask the same question and mourn the loss of Barbaro.

  6. dannykate permalink
    May 10, 2007 5:25 pm

    barbaro was and still is my favoite horse in the whole world

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