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May 9, 2006

Barbaro’s history makes history

’Twas a beautiful thing.A horse we suspected (and predicted) might be a new racing star produced an overpowering — and splendid to see — triumph in the 2006 Kentucky Derby.Barbaro won off by himself. He flew to the lead on the turn for home, then drew away in the home stretch to absolutely rule the 132nd Kentucky Derby. Streaking alone beneath the ancient Twin Spires at Churchill Downs — with 19 worthy, but overmatched, opponents trailing behind — Barbaro confirmed his quality, his class and his power on horse racing’s greatest stage.[img_assist|nid=1414|title=Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com/NTRA|desc=Barbaro, with Edgar Prado, wins the 2006 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs by the biggest margin in 60 years.|link=|align=right|width=200|height=154]Especially his power.When Barbaro won the Florida Derby five weeks ago, he looked like he won with power in reserve. Then on a perfect spring day at Churchill Downs, he won again with power in reserve.Barbaro ran like a marvelous mahogany machine — powered by a huge equine engine. A “mill,” as they might call it at Indy. Off the powerful boost, Barbaro’s black legs simply sailed over long furlongs of ground. Maybe someone with a computerized techno-gizmo could go back over a tape of the race and measure his stride exactly. It’d be a big number.With jockey Edgar Prado sporting the white, blue and green silks of Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stable (and with his No. 8 saddle cloth to help with the ID), Barbaro proved to be a horse whose mental game is as sharp as his physical talent.All of this started a long time ago.Loyal readers are likely worn out with this scribe’s passion for pedigrees, but we think it matters. Especially with Barbaro, who was born to win the Kentucky Derby.Barbaro is a great-grandson of Hail to Reason, whose sire line also produced Kentucky Derby winners Proud Clarion, Sunny’s Halo and Sunday Silence.John W. Galbreath, the late owner of Darby Dan Farm and the Pittsburgh Pirates, employed an old Kentucky hardboot named Olin Gentry to build his farm’s bloodlines in the late-1950s and ’60s. Galbreath swung big deals to buy 1955 Derby winner Swaps and import undefeated European champion Ribot to stand at stud at Darby Dan.Gentry, meanwhile, went around the Bluegrass farms and kind of quietly bought up a band of broodmares, many of whom traced to the old Idle Hour Stock Farm of Col. E.R. Bradley, who won four Kentucky Derbies in the 1920s — all with horses beginning with the letter “B.”On Gentry’s advice, several of the Bradley-line mares were bred to Hail to Reason. One of those matings produced Proud Clarion. Another was such an outstanding prospect Galbreath named him Roberto, after Pirates Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente.Roberto won the English Derby in 1972, then sired Dynaformer, a star stallion of today who stands at Three Chimneys Farm, just a couple miles up Old Frankfort Pike from Darby Dan and the old Idle Hour.The Jacksons married into all that.Or, rather, they mated their broodmare La Ville Rouge to Dynaformer.La Ville Rouge brought her own Derby dowry, tracing to Raise a Native, Round Table and Nearctic.The “marriage” made, the Jacksons then did what breeders do best: They hoped for the best.And got it. On April 29, 2003, Barbaro was born. And on May 6, 2006, an international racing star was born.What’s next?It is certainly possible Barbaro could become the 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed, 28 years ago. But our big hope is Barbaro becomes a long-running star of the American turf, racing in New York and California, and back to Churchill Downs this fall for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Maybe next year ship overseas to try Europe’s greatest race, the Prix de l’Arc ‘de Triomphe, in Paris.Then, someday, send a son back to win the Kentucky Derby. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com