The moment the news flashed across her computer screen yesterday, Patty Morgera left her job and headed to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, where she wiped tears as she scrawled on a poster, "Barbaro, you are my inspiration."
Morgera, a business analyst who lives in nearby Downingtown, said she has tracked the colt's progress as she herself fought off breast cancer the past year.
"I'm just so sad," said Morgera, 52. "He's an inspiration that no matter what obstacles you are facing, you can always move forward."
Yesterday was a day of mourning for Morgera and other fans of the Kentucky Derby winner, who broke down in the Preakness on May 20 at Pimlico Race Course. Barbaro was euthanized yesterday after caregivers determined the horse was suffering from painful laminitis that had spread to his front legs.
Employees at the New Bolton Center, where Barbaro had been recovering, took the news particularly hard, having spent months watching the horse's progress, a veterinarian said.
"There's nobody in this hospital who didn't feel concern for the people who were dealing with him every day," said the veterinarian, Midge Leitch. "They know what that burden is like."
She said she saw Barbaro a half-hour before he was put down and she knew by the look on his face he was in pain.
"His expression had changed. He was ill at ease," she said.
In the center's lobby, well-wishers had covered a table with red roses and other floral arrangements, many containing notes of condolences. Posters with pictures of the horse festooned the walls.
As a teary-eyed hospital employee spoke to reporters, Rachel Rockoff placed a large vase containing two dozen red roses on the floor.
Rockoff, a manager of a local florist shop, said her store's three phone lines had not stopped ringing since news of Barbaro's death surfaced earlier in the day.
"These people have been praying for him since the beginning," said Rockoff, who said she has taken orders from Barbaro fans in places as far away as Australia and Europe.
Alie Berstler, owner of Kennett Florist, said she has made at least one delivery to the hospital for Barbaro fans every day since the colt arrived.
She said people were drawn by the horse's "spirit."
"They saw in him what they wanted to see in the themselves," Berstler said.
Many fans learned of the horse's death from a blog kept by a friend of the horse's trainer.
"I cried," said Brenda Grandizio, a high school teacher from Chester County who stopped by the hospital after work to place a bouquet of flowers on a table in the lobby. "I had to call my mom - she cried.
"He was the underdog," she added. "He was just a beautiful horse."
Outside the hospital, vans with satellite dishes on their roofs filled the parking lot as news of Barbaro's death drew scores of media to the facility, about 1 1/2 hours north of Baltimore.
Inside, some employees and medical students traversed the halls with sullen faces.
"It's been hard on everybody," said Jennifer Rench, a center spokeswoman.
Alex Brown, who writes a blog about Barbaro, estimated there were 40,000 daily visitors to his site by yesterday afternoon.
"This was a horse of a lifetime," said Brown, a horse trainer wearing a "Fans of Barbaro" wristband. "He was the best horse we've had for years."