A viewer doesn't have to be a horse-racing expert or even a fan of the sport to appreciate NBC's one-hour documentary
Barbaro: A Nation's Horse
, which can be seen Sunday at 5 p.m.
Airing on what would have been Barbaro's fourth birthday, the documentary captures the personality, spirit and courage of a horse who eventually had to be put down after fracturing his right hind leg in last year's Preakness.
Though the show doesn't offer much new information, it provides a powerful presentation of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner's triumphs and the eventual tragedy that gripped the nation.
"I worked the World Series, the Super Bowl, Sunday Night Football, the Olympics and the Ironman Triathlon, but this is the best story I ever worked on," Rob Hyland, the documentary's producer, said in a phone interview.
Done in the style of NFL Films, with the appropriate music, interviews and video, the documentary captures Barbaro's tenacity as he fought to live. He was euthanized Jan. 29.
The interviews of those involved are both heartfelt and incisive.
"Grief is the price we all pay for love," co-owner Gretchen Jackson said in speaking of Barbaro.
Jackson and her husband, Roy, provided tremendous insight into the personality of Barbaro, as did trainer Michael Matz, assistant trainer Peter Brette, jockey Edgar Prado and surgeon Dean Richardson.
Also offering objective analysis was Inquirer writer Mike Jensen, who was with the horse every step of the way and added valuable perspective to the documentary.
Hyland says that this wasn't intended to be a tear-jerker, but it would be hard for any viewer to have dry eyes.
"There are moments it is hard to watch, seeing him get hurt, hearing the Jacksons talk about how difficult it was to put him down," Hyland said. "But the overwhelming message of the show is that while they are sad he's gone, they still think of him every day and felt lucky to have him once."
Hyland said he believes the documentary is important because of the way Barbaro captivated the nation with his brilliant racing and then his courage to fight for his life.
"It is more of an inspirational thing and more than this horse was a special horse who captured everybody's imagination for a year," Hyland said.