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Book Review

My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horse
by Edgar Prado with John Eisenberg
Harper Collins Publishers, April 2008, 208 pages hardcover

For contemporary followers of horse racing, two dates will be remembered forever. On May 6, 2006, the undefeated Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby by margin of 6 1/2 lengths, the largest in sixty years. Then on May 20, with fans and media already predicting a Triple Crown sweep, the unthinkable happened. Barbaro broke his right hind ankle shortly after the start and was pulled up in front of 116,000 stunned spectators at Pimlico Race Course and millions watching on television.

The story that gripped the nation, if not the world, had just begun. Fans will always remember where they were when they saw the breakdown, and will also remember where they were when they heard the news that Barbaro had been euthanized. Perhaps no person's life was affected more by Barbaro's story than the man who rode him in those two historic races. In his first book, jockey Edgar Prado tells us what it was like riding Barbaro, and then his personal experiences following the horse's progress as Dr. Dean Richardson attempted to save his life at the New Bolton Center.

Prado begins with his autobiography, telling us about growing up poor in his native Lima, Peru, the youngest of eleven children, the family crammed into a small house with no running water or electricity. His father was a horseman, which attracted young Edgar and his brothers to life at the track, beginning at Monterrico. After conquering his home circuit, he turned down lucrative offers to ride for top Peruvian owners, instead pursuing his dream to ride in America, which took him to Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and finally, New York and the big leagues. Soon, Prado had won major races all over America but still was winless in the country's greatest race.

He then describes how he got he mount on Barbaro, first noticing the "man among boys" when, in the Laurel Futurity, the horse Prado rode that day could not catch up with the Lael Stables homebred son of Dynaformer. Soon he had convinced trainer Michael Matz to let him ride, but interestingly, Matz refused to allow Prado to ride Barbaro in the mornings, that assignment being the exclusive domain of assistant Peter Brette. While Prado rode Barbaro in those spring prep races, his mother was fighting a losing battle with cancer. Prado tried desperately to get his mother's visa extended so she could come back to America for treatments, but the extension came a day too late.

The entire second half of the book, Prado takes us through his personal experiences during Barbaro's stay in the hospital. He would often bring his family to the New Bolton Center to feed Barbaro some of the many carrots that were sent by fans. He particularly enjoyed walking Barbaro outside with Dr. Richardson, as clearly the horse was happier grazing than he was inside the hospital. As it was for the many fans that followed the story in the news and on this website, it was a roller-coaster ride of emotions for him as well. There was the joy of seeing him improve so rapidly, then the disappointment when laminitis affected the left hind leg, and then joy again when that appeared to be healing, with Gretchen Jackson asking him where Barbaro should go when he checks out of the hospital. Prado could tell from Barbaro's mannerisms if he was happy or suffering, and his own emotions followed suit.

Prado was away in Peru for a jockey's competition the day Barbaro was put down, and heard the bad news from a friend who had heard the report on the radio. Although, like every fan, he was deeply saddened, he, like those same fans, made sure Barbaro did not die in vain. He paid tribute to everybody who donated funds in Barbaro's name for various equine causes, and he auctioned off his Kentucky Derby saddle for this purpose, the high bidder being the Jacksons. He hopes he can use his new saddle to win the Derby aboard Barbaro's full brother Nicanor.

Every racing fan who followed the Barbaro story as it happened will enjoy this book, despite the unhappy ending. Prado handled two very painful losses in his life -- his mother and his Kentucky Derby winner -- in a matter of months and fans will appreciate this future Hall of Fame jockey even more by his story. His memoir is the heartwarming and inspiring tale of the special bond between a man and the horse America grew to love.

My Guy Barbaro has a list price of $25.95 and is available from Amazon.com fpr $17.13.

Rating:     5/5

If you like this, you may also like Kentucky Derby 132 Review - Barbaro.

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