"The fact that the injury was 'contained' in that sense was the factor that gave us hope," Palmer said.

'I knew it was bad'
When a broken bone breaks through the skin of a horse injured during a race, dirt often filters into the wound, heightening the chances of the area becoming infected. Few horses survive that complication.

Horses that suffer compound fractures during races sometimes are euthanized right on the track, said Joe Miller, a Maryland Jockey Club staff member who drove the equine ambulance that reached Barbaro moments after the horse broke down.

As Matz, the Jacksons, several vets and jockey club staffers gathered quickly around Barbaro, Miller, a veteran employee, removed from his ambulance and unfurled a green mesh screen. It is used to keep fans from viewing injured horses while vets tend to them on the track - and sometimes euthanize them.

"I had seen the fracture on TV before I got in the ambulance and got out there, and I knew it was bad," said Miller.

When savvy fans saw the screen, they feared that Barbaro was about to be euthanized. Some shouted angrily that the horse should not be put down.

"Take him home!" one wailed.

In fact, the idea of putting down Barbaro at that point was never discussed by those on the track. The severity of the injury wasn't yet clear, although it looked bad. In any case, because valuable horses are always insured, they're routinely taken back to the barn after being injured so X-rays can be taken.

"When I got the screen out, it was never with the thought that he would be put down there on the track," Miller said. "I didn't want fans to see him, and I didn't want photographers taking pictures of the injury."

As it turned out, Matz felt the screen was upsetting Barbaro as vets tended to him, because the screen made flapping noises in the wind. Matz asked Miller to take it down, and Miller did.

Glen Kozak, director of operations for the jockey club, said, "I was one of the first ones to get to Barbaro after he broke down, and from then until the moment we loaded him into the ambulance to take him back to the barn, the whole focus was on getting him out of there as quickly as possible."

As soon as Barbaro was back in his stall in the stakes barn, X-ray technicians went to work. Using digital technology, they produced views of the injury within minutes. Palmer, Dreyfuss and Dr. Nick Meittinis - Dreyfuss' partner in a private practice - studied the X-rays while Matz waited outside the stall and the Jacksons stood outside the barn.

Dreyfuss broke the news first to the Jacksons.

"When the first films came up, I went to them and told them what he had fractured, what the fracture looked like, went over the pluses and minuses," Dreyfuss said. "I gave them some of the specifics of what was going to make it different as a surgical case.

"They were incredibly gracious as I spoke to them. Not to put words in their mouths, but it was like, 'OK, you've told us all we need to know; now go back and help our horse.' They didn't say it anywhere near like that, but that was the message."

Meanwhile, Palmer convened with Matz.

"Mike said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'Mike, it's a terrible, terrible fracture, pretty much as bad as it can be," Palmer said. "He said, 'Why don't you come out [of the stall] and let's talk to the Jacksons about it?'"

The Jacksons knew the injury was severe, but they had not huddled with Matz. It was evident, Palmer said, that the Jacksons just wanted to know what was best for the horse. Palmer reiterated that the injury wasn't a compound fracture, so there was at least a semblance of hope, although special treatment would be needed.

Barbaro was at New Bolton within two hours.

Still in the spotlight
What would have happened if any of the vets back at Pimlico had told the Jacksons that Barbaro's chances of survival were minimal and that the horse should be put down?

"Whether they would have made a different decision, I don't know," Dreyfuss said. "It all happened very quickly. They were very respectful of the opinions we were giving them. I'm sure they would have listened. But as things unfolded, it was never discussed."

A year later, Barbaro remains in the spotlight. The Jacksons attended the Kentucky Derby on May 5 to highlight fundraising efforts for laminitis research. They will also be at Pimlico for the Preakness this Saturday.

"We've had people tell us it's going to be a long time before the Barbaro story goes away," Roy Jackson said last week. "We hope the emphasis is on using that to try to solve some of the critical issues in our business. We would like to see that be Barbaro's legacy. The fact that he fought so hard, we just hope down the road it helps other horses."

john.eisenberg@baltsun.com