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Barbaro is again center of attention

Barbaro's second Derby Day appearance was much like his first: joyful.

For here he was, larger than life, in the form of a recently unveiled statue, the center of attention surrounded by roses.

The roses were single and red, left by admirers. There were carrots, too, wilted already by the middle of the day. And there was a single peppermint, still in its wrapper.

Jo Ann Hanson of Danville, Calif., picked up a carrot.

Someone had put them there, she said, "to remind him that he's safe and loved and remembered."

"I was here when he was here," she said. "I don't care about betting today. I came a long, long way to see this statue."

She smiled broadly. It was worth the coming.

But this was not a time for tears for the 2006 Derby winner who was pulled up at the beginning of his Preakness run and ran no more. This was a time for all Derby-goers, be they on their 21st or first Derby, to take a look at the statue that has been erected in his honor.

No one, not even those intent on speeding through the security stop at Gate 1, failed to take a minute to drink in the bronze sculpture that Alexa King has wrought as a horse in mid-flight, no feet touching the ground.

"He's pretty," said Paige Blaker, 8, of Baltimore, who confessed she had no idea who the horse was.

"He's big," said Paige's twin sister, Shelby. "He looks fast."

Told that his remains were cemented under the 1,500-pound statue, Paige was stunned.

"That's different," she said, then moved on, determined to see horses that were not immortalized yet.

Jockeying for position alongside the sculpted Barbaro were all sorts of folks angling for a snapshot of themselves with what looks to be a new icon for the Downs.

"Can you take a picture of us?" Terry Howser of Montgomery, Ala., asked Lee Wallace of Charlotte, N.C. One man was in shorts and a trucker's cap, the other was in seersucker.

"Of course," said Wallace, who couldn't help but gather his family in as well for photos.

A man with a "Bob Baffert" name tag affixed to his lapel name tag stood for pictures with his family and friends. He bore a remarkable resemblance to the Hall of Fame trainer.

"We love" the statue, said the Baffert lookalike, whose real name is Ken Mellard. "I only wish I could have a mint julep while I'm standing here."

Mellard was here Friday for the Oaks and both days had his picture taken in front of the Barbaro statue. From Leawood, Kan., he figures he will have to take a picture every time he comes now to the Downs. "It's a tradition," he said, laughing.

Some real professional-sounding types discussed the technicalities of the statue and the equine game, how the toe grabs that can be seen on Barbaro's shoes are now illegal, or the relative virtues of Polytrack versus dirt.

Meanwhile, five guys all hailing from the University of Illinois made a point of having their photograph taken with Barbaro.

They had decided on Monday to come "when the forecast was nice," said Alex Nash of Naperville, Ill.

So there they were, ready to have their picture made for posterity.

They waited behind families, school groups, couples, and a very wide shot of 10 grown men in suits who said they have known one another since grade school.

Why have the picture taken here with the statue? There's a whole day of memories waiting inside Churchill to be captured.

"It's a camaraderie thing," said Nash, who was, like his pals, in overalls and aviator glasses.

So, it's not a love of Barbaro thing? Not a horse racing thing? Not an equine thing?

The blondest of them, James Howell of Chicago, looked up just then and asked, ever so sincerely: "What's an equine?"

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