KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. – Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was "bright and appropriately frisky" Monday after surgery from his broken hind leg, even showing an interest in mares, but the colt still faces a long and perilous road to recovery.
Dr. Dean Richardson, who performed the intricate five-hour operation, was satisfied with the result but was blunt about the future for a horse who put together an unbeaten record until he broke down in the Preakness Stakes.
Richardson, who operated on Barbaro at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center for Large Animals on Sunday, said the horse's chances for survival were still 50-50. Barbaro was standing in his stall at the center's intensive care unit and showed interest in several mares in the vicinity.
"He got through the night very well, day one and into day two is going as well as expected," Corinne Sweeney, a veterinarian and the hospital's executive director, said Monday. "He is standing on the leg, and with the appropriate amount of weight on it.
"He also showed appropriate interest in the mares, which means he's acting like a young colt should."
Sweeney said there are two major concerns in the first days of recovery, the possibility of infection from the surgery and laminitis, a potentially fatal disease sometimes brought on by uneven weight balance.
"He's doing exactly what the doctor wants, but he's got a long road ahead," Sweeney added. "A lot of possible problems that could occur have not."
Earlier Monday, Richardson emphasized that the horse had a long road ahead, and would never race again.
"Realistically, it's going to be months before we know if he's going to make it," Richardson told CBS' "The Early Show." "We're salvaging him as a breeding animal."
Barbaro's surgery to repair three bones shattered in his right rear leg at the Preakness went about as well as Richardson and trainer Michael Matz hoped. It wasn't long after surgery when Barbaro began to show signs he might make it after all.
After a dip into a large swimming pool before he was awakened — part of New Bolton's renowned recovery system that minimizes injury risk — Barbaro was brought back to his stall, where he should have been calmly rested on all four legs.
Barbaro had other ideas.
"He decided to jump up and down a few times," Richardson said, smiling. "But he didn't hurt anything. That's the only thing that really matters. It had Michael worried."
That's not much to worry about after the agony of the previous 24 hours. Barbaro sustained "life-threatening injuries" Saturday when he broke bones above and below his right rear ankle at the start of the Preakness Stakes.
His surgery began around 1 p.m., but it wasn't until about eight hours later that Richardson and Matz emerged for a news briefing.
"I feel much more relieved after I saw him walk to the stall then when I was loading him in the ambulance to come up here, that's for darn sure," Matz said. "Nobody knew. It was an unknown area going in. I feel much more confident now. At least I feel he has a chance. Last night, I didn't know what was going to go on."
Unbeaten and a serious Triple Crown threat, Barbaro broke down Saturday only a few hundred yards into the 1 3-16th-mile Preakness. The record crowd of 118,402 watched in shock as Barbaro veered sideways, his right leg flaring out grotesquely. Jockey Edgar Prado pulled the powerful colt to a halt, jumped off and awaited medical assistance.
Barbaro sustained a broken cannon bone above the ankle, a broken sesamoid bone behind the ankle and a broken long pastern bone below the ankle. The fetlock joint — the ankle — was dislocated.
Richardson said the pastern bone was shattered in "20-plus pieces."
The bones were put in place to fuse the joint by inserting a plate and 23 screws to repair damage so severe that most horses would not be able to survive it.
Horses are often euthanized after serious leg injuries because circulation problems and deadly disease can arise if they are unable to distribute weight on all fours.
Richardson said he expects Barbaro to remain at the center for several weeks, but "it wouldn't surprise me if he's here much longer than that."
Tucked away on a sprawling, lush 650-acre campus in Chester County, the New Bolton Center is widely considered the top hospital for horses in the mid-Atlantic region. The center is renowned for its specialized care, especially on animals needing complicated surgery on bone injuries.
Roses, other assorted flowers and cards from fans and admirers expressing well wishes were delivered to the center and displayed in the lobby. One sign said "Be Well Barbaro." Two apples and five carrots, some of a horse's favorite snacks, lay next to the flowers.
"I feel at least better that we've made every effort to save his life," Matz said. "At least he has the chance now to have a career as a stallion."
Barbaro's injury came a year after Afleet Alex's brush with catastrophe at the Preakness. Turning for home, the horse was bumped by another and nearly knocked to his knees before gathering himself and going on to win.