Smile Politely

Expectations Are Too High for Barbaro’s Little Brothers

Barbaro wins the 2006 Kentucky DerbyMetaphorically, they say lightning never strikes the same place twice. But still, people hope; of course, it’s all right to hope… but when does it become a pressure? Two full-brothers of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, are in training to become race horses like their late brother. The hope: one of them will carry on the legacy of Barbaro and become a racing champion. The reality: this is next to impossible.

In only a matter of weeks, the three-year-old Nicanor will enter his first race. The pressure surrounding his connections must be outstanding; they are essentially trying to duplicate Barbaro not only in sire and dam, but in training and successes. Nicanor was not born to be a clone of his older brother– before Barbaro won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, Nicanor was hitting the straw as a newborn. But the big bay colt is entering a world where he will not be able to carry his own identity. He will always be known as “Barbaro’s brother.”

In the past decade, no other race horse was more in the public eye than Barbaro. He started out a grass horse, and won in dominating form. His owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, knew they had something special in their hands, and decided to try Barbaro on dirt; there, too, he excelled, and was thusly set on the road to Kentucky. Barbaro was not the favorite when he entered the gates for the 2006 Kentucky Derby, but when he crossed the wire 6 ½ lengths in front of the nineteen other horses, he became nothing short of a sensation. His margin of victory was the largest since the Triple Crown-winning Assault in 1946. Barbaro’s star shot into the sky like a firework, but it wasn’t until after the tragic events of the Preakness Stakes, where he shattered his right hind ankle in the first few yards of the race, that people outside the racing world began to pay him any attention. His fight for survival in the months thereafter was tracked in newspapers and TV coverage across the country, and he became affectionately known as “America’s Horse.” But nine months after the breakdown, Barbaro’s complications with laminitis ultimately told his doctors enough was enough, and on January 29th, 2007, the Kentucky Derby winner was euthanized.

Michael Matz, who trained Barbaro, and now conditions Nicanor, said that Nicanor’s first start will be somewhere at the end of January or the beginning of February. The bay colt will be entering a Maiden Special Weight race for horses who’ve not yet won a race, and their options are wide-open as for what sort of race he will enter. Nicanor has posted workouts on three different surfaces, and grass seems like a likely bet, though Matz is waiting until closer to the moment the colt is ready to make that decision. Nicanor is considered a late-blooming colt, as most three-year-olds already have several races to their record by this time; but stepping onto the racetrack later than other horses doesn’t mean he’s not doing well. Matz is giving the colt time to mature, and as highly anticipated as Nicanor’s first start will be, patience is in the horse’s best interest.

The youngest brother of them all, Lentenor, has officially turned two years old and is in training in Ocala, Florida, at Stephens Thoroughbreds. Word is, Lentenor is picking up quickly on what is expected of him and is coming along faster in some ways than when his brothers were two-year-olds. The news that both of Barbaro’s brothers are doing well is exciting, but how realistic are the chances that either of these colts will even win a race? Over the years, many champion horses have attempted to be duplicated, but their full-siblings come up short. It’s the same story as humans-just because there’s one prodigy in the family doesn’t mean all of the kids will be.

Barbaro's legNicanor and Lentenor, thrust into fame before they had a lick of talent to show, are delicate reminders of Barbaro that could very well lead to triumph or devastation. Should they beat the odds and succeed as race horses, they will make some bittersweet memories by honoring their late brother’s legacy. But there is also a darkness that potentially waits in the wings for these full-brothers. It’s not really expected of them to become champions, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Nicanor or Lentenor never went on to win a race-these are homebred horses who came with a built-in fan base; they will never see a $2,000 claiming race, or worse. The thing which most haunts these colts is the very thing that contributed to Barbaro’s initial injury-his genes.

With the breeding of each of these horses being identical, it is very possible the same weakness in Barbaro’s leg that couldn’t help it from shattering may also be in his brothers’. Is taking a second dip in this gene pool playing with fire? Let’s hope we do not get a full repeat of Barbaro’s story. It’s enough to hope for another champion of his caliber; we don’t need a repeat of his tragedy.

The progress of Barbaro’s little brothers can be followed in a blog, “Tracking Barbaro’s Brothers” on

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