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Tragedy strikes Preakness again

| Sunday, May 20, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

BALTIMORE -- The Preakness Stakes crowd at Pimlico Race Course witnessed another tragedy Saturday.

One year after Barbaro's horrific breakdown and ensuing fight for life, Mending Fences suffered a fatal injury in a turf race on the Preakness undercard.

Mending Fences sustained a fracture of his right front ankle on the far turn in the day's 10th race. The 5-year-old son of Forestry Mending Fences, a winner of seven races in 26 starts, was euthanized at the track.

"Going around the turn caused him to dislocate his ankle," noted veterinarian Larry Bramlage said. "When he went down, the fracture went through the skin."

Jockey Eddie Castro was not injured.

"The horse broke his leg," Castro said. "I know that. I don't know what happened."

Unlike Barbaro's gruesome breakdown in front of the grandstand, Mending Fences collapsed on the backstretch, far from the eyes of most of the 121,263 in attendance.

Mending Fences, trained by Martin Wolfson, led the Grade II $250,000 Dixie Stakes at the second turn when he stumbled and fell for no apparent reason.

Collisions were avoided as at least three horses, including eventual winner Remarkable News, hurdled the fallen 11-1 shot. Favored Einstein leapt to avoid the prone Mending Fences, dismounting jockey Robby Albarado, who was not injured.

"I was very, very lucky I didn't get hurt," Albarado said. "It was unfortunate for the horse that did break down. I was unable to avoid him."

The breakdown came less than a half hour after the Barbaro Stakes, a newly named race in memory of the fallen 2006 Kentucky Derby champion, euthanized Jan. 29 after an eight-month battle with complications from his broken right hind leg.

Yesterday's accident marred a day in which racing fans returned to the Preakness intent on better memories and a bit of normalcy.

Trainer Michael Matz was back at the site of his devastating loss, winning the first Barbaro Stakes with Chelokee.

Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson of West Grove, spoke after Chelokee beat four rivals to win the 11/16-mile race, formally known as the Sir Barton Stakes.

"I wasn't as sad as a lot of people thought that I might be," Gretchen Jackson said. "I've moved on from that spot."

Bettors sent off Chelokee, who skipped the Preakness to run in the Barbaro Stakes, as a 1-5 pick as the heaviest favorite and the most sentimental race of the day.

"Right now, I'm elated," Matz said. "I couldn't be happier."

Dawn Barrett, 47, of Lansdale attended her first Pimlico last year.

"I was down at the fence," she said. "I have pictures of him right then. I ran back up because everybody started to cry. It was awful."

She was back yesterday. So was Peter Auchincloss, 46, of Baltimore. He was sitting in nearly the same seats in the grandstand where Barbaro broke down in front of him.

"Right there is where the jock dismounted," Auchincloss said, pointing toward the track about 20 feet away. "There wasn't one person who watched the rest of that race. It was morose. People were crying."

Some good came out of Barbaro's loss. The Barbaro Memorial Fund was established to try to find a cure for laminitis, which ultimately led to Barbaro's death. More synthetic surfaces are being used for safety reasons.

On Mother's Day, fans from around the country sent flowers to Gretchen Jackson. Delaware Stakes also established a race in his honor.

Warren Stein, 51, of Annapolis, Md., and his 4-year-old daughter stood in the grandstand yesterday, watching the races. The two of them also attended last year's Preakness, with little Danielle perched on Stein's shoulders when Barbaro broke down in front of them.

"I turned my daughter around," Stein said, "and we left."

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