BALTIMORE. -- This was supposed to be Edgar Prado's dream come true -- a horse of destiny winning the Preakness on a track where the jockey launched his career.
Instead, Pimlico Race Course will for now will only conjure up nightmares for the Peruvian jockey.
Prado, riding Barbaro, the impressive winner of the Kentucky Derby and the overwhelming favorite yesterday at the track that he used to call home, had to change his ride from trying to win the Preakness to saving his horse's life when Barbaro broke his right hind ankle less than an eighth of a mile into the race.
No one realized it at the time, but there was an omen of pending disaster just minutes earlier. As the horses were loaded into the gate and waiting for the start of the race, Barbaro forced his way out of the sixth gate early and trotted around before being brought back into the gate to start the race.
As the field took off, Prado did all he could to pull Barbaro up and stop the horse from doing further damage. The record crowd of more than 118,000 at Pimlico was torn between watching the tragedy unfolding in front of them while at the same time watching a 13-1 long shot named Bernardini thunder down and pull away to win the 131st Preakness, and end another dance with the prospects of the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
They also watched the end of Barbaro's career, and maybe his life as well, as the devastating injury overshadowed the race. Unless you were holding a winning Bernardini ticket, it really didn't matter who won. The excitement that built up as the crowd waited for the horses to leave the starting gate was gone in the first 10 seconds, when Prado began pulling Barbaro up.
Larry Bramlage, an equine orthopedic surgeon from Kentucky who was assigned to yesterday's race, said Barbaro suffered fractures in two places -- above and below the right ankle -- and last night was being transported to the George B. Widener Hospital for Large Animals in Kennett Square, outside of Philadelphia, not far from where the horse was raised, to determine if the Kentucky Derby winner's life could be saved. Television crews in helicopters followed the ambulance as it made its way up Interstate 95 toward Philadelphia with a police motorcycle escort.
"There are at least a couple of aspects that are at least life threatening for him," Bramlage said. "He has some major hurdles. They have to assess what kind of damage was done to the blood supply."
If Barbaro does survive, it will because of Prado's actions to try to keep the horse from running once the jockey determined his ride was in trouble.
"It was critical to pull the horse up as quickly as possible," Bramlage said. "If Edgar had let him go, he probably would have kept trying to chase them [the rest of the field]. Edgar was probably aware of the injury before the horse was."
Prado was inconsolable after the race. He cried as he embraced in sorrow assistant trainer Peter Brette, and the jockey could barely talk after the race.
"I don't want to talk about it and I'm not going to talk about it," he said. "It is what it is."
A few moments later, Prado gathered himself to describe what happened.
"When he went to the gate, he was feeling super and I felt like he was in the best condition for this race," he said. "He actually tried to buck me off a couple of times. He was feeling that good. He just touched the front of the doors of the gate and went right through it.
"During the race, he took a bad step, and I can't really tell you what happened," Prado said. "I heard a noise about 100 yards into the race and pulled him right up."
What happened was probably the last thing Prado thought was going to happen to him and his horse on a track where he has ridden thousands of races. He was the leading rider at Maryland tracks from 1991 to 1993 and again from 1996 to 1998.
He went on to become one of the winningest jockeys in the country, and rode two long shots -- 70-1 Savara in 2002 and 36-1 Birdsong in 2004 -- to Belmont Stakes victories, stopping the Triple Crown bids of War Emblem and Smarty Jones. He added the Kentucky Derby to his resume two weeks ago. But the race that meant the most to him was the one that took place yesterday -- the Preakness.
Before last year's Derby, Prado said winning the Preakness would mean more to him than winning the Derby.
"To a lot of people, the Kentucky Derby is the most important race and -- don't get me wrong -- it is very exciting," he said. "But to me, if I would win the Preakness, that would be more exciting because of the great memories I have of racing in Maryland." Now there is one lasting memory of racing in Maryland that will probably haunt Edgar Prado for the rest of his life.