Barbaro statue design unveiled at Churchill Downs

May 2, 2008 5:32:30 AM PDT
One image kept coming to mind every time Gretchen Jackson thought of the champion thoroughbred Barbaro, whose triumph at the Kentucky Derby was followed by tragedy at the Preakness Stakes.

Jackson always pictured the horse airborne, all four legs kicking in unison. When sculptor Alexa King captured that precise snapshot in a miniature model for a bronze statue marking Barbaro's eventual grave site, Jackson knew the full-sized version just had to be built.

"It just made my heart pound because it was so much like Barbaro and was exactly how I had mentally pictured a statue of him," Jackson said.

Jackson and her husband, Roy, unveiled the design for the 1,500-pound artwork Thursday at Churchill Downs, which has been selected as Barbaro's final resting place. King expects the statue marking Barbaro's ashes will be in place outside a gate at the track in time for next year's Run for the Roses.

The Jacksons' colt was generating buzz about serious Triple Crown prospects after winning the 2006 Derby by 6½ lengths - the most lopsided in 60 years of the historic race. But Barbaro broke down just out of the gate in the Preakness and was later euthanized following a long battle with laminitis.

King, a renowned equine sculptor who owns eight hackney horses, submitted the winning design after nearly 100 artists expressed interest and 10 submitted one-third scale models. She said it was important to get each of Barbaro's details correct.

"This horse is a very physical animal, a beautiful thoroughbred," she said. "I was hoping I'd be able to create a statue that looked exactly like him. The people that brushed this horse, fed this horse, trained this horse, took care of him, this monument is for those people."

Although the statue will require nearly a year of work, the site itself is already in full bloom. A tree stands where the statue will go, and the future grave is surrounded by bright purple tulips.

After the ceremony at the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Jacksons unveiled a temporary marker outside the gate. Also Thursday, Churchill announced it would display sculptures of Barbaro submitted by student designers.

"We have the deepest respect for Barbaro's legacy, not only as the Kentucky Derby champion but for the courage and resilience he showed through his terrible ordeal," said Bill Carstanjen, chief development officer at Churchill.

Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, attended the ceremony and said he was proud that Barbaro's final resting place would be in such a visible location, near the spot of his most heralded triumph.

"He had so many people that he touched, and they're making it possible that the people can be in touch with him," Matz said.