A Champion Dies

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen, who also owns and races horses, stepped away from his law beat for a few moments today to offer this appreciation of Barbaro.
(AP Photo)
They put down a brave and beautiful and strong and swift horse this morning after fighting for months to save his short and scarred life. They ended a series of medical experiments that were so creative and expansive (and expensive) that they will undoubtedly help save other horses down the road. They accepted the inevitable, as all of us eventually must do, that no amount of time or money or skill or luck can prevent God or nature from ending a life when the time has come.

There will be plenty of space in the coming days and weeks to debate whether the eight-month-long fuss over Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was worth it, or unseemly, or even ethical. For now, though, for today anyway, there should be only sorrow for the horse, and his dogged connections, and the thousands and thousands of good-hearted people all across the world, men and women and children, who rallied to his cause after that awful day in May, in the Preakness, when he shattered his leg at the start of the race.

Sorrow and perhaps a little time to acknowledge with a sense of wonderment that there are creatures among us, human and horse, who track across our skies so brightly and starkly that they touch the better angels of our nature. For better or worse, we are what and how we treat those around us who are less fortunate, man, woman or beast, innocent or blameworthy, noble or lame, and not even the worst cynic out there can say that Barbaro's struggle didn't bring out the best in so many of us. He fought to live. We fought to help him. He lasted months longer than he rightfully should have. And we never gave up on him.

There are plenty of things about us as a nation and a society that need fixing, plenty of other more important causes out there aside from the life-and-death turmoil of one horse. But when we showed with Barbaro that we could come together, with compassion and sympathy, so many of us and from so many walks of life, we reminded ourselves that we have the capacity for such sustained goodness, such altruistic purpose, such nobility of cause. In his life and in his death this was Barbaro's gift to us, all of us, in exchange for the gift of love we had given him during his fight.

A fine horse became a champion and then a victim and now on the day of his death is reborn into a legend. You watch and see how many Barbaro-related charities will mark his name in the years to come; watch and see how many young people stay connected with horses because of his case and his cause. There is great good in this bad ending and that, too, is a gift the great horse passed along to us and our children. On the day Barbaro was injured, my son and I lit a candle for him. We thought it had done the trick. Now we'll light another candle. This time in thankful honor of his memory.


  • Andrew Cohen

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