STANTON, Del. - Barbaro's groom showed up at Delaware Park yesterday and there were cheers - and nobody even had to be told that this man had been Barbaro's groom. Just the name, Eduardo Hernandez, sufficed.
A couple of minutes later, Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, arrived and before any announcement was made, everyone in a tent near the paddock immediately stood up.
"Overwhelming, a bit," Roy Jackson said later about the outpouring of affection.
"You wish you had six hands," Gretchen Jackson said of the requests for autographs.
Yesterday, a group that had basically emerged from an Internet site filled that tent at Delaware Park, the site of Barbaro's first race. More than 500 Fans of Barbaro, the truest believers, had come from all over the country to celebrate the late Kentucky Derby winner's fourth birthday. They also came to raise money for several issues they had grown to care passionately about.
The longest commute was from South Africa. A 22-year-old Fan of Barbaro had moved up her trip to the United States when she learned of this event. Nadine Bradley traveled with her mother from Johannesburg to Atlanta to Washington, which took 30 hours.
Bradley said she had become attracted to Barbaro's story even before the Derby because the colt had switched over from racing on the grass, the main racing surface in South Africa. All of a sudden, she was putting faces to the names of people she had been conversing with online for months.
The conversations have been on a message board on www.TimWoolleyracing.com - the gathering place for all things Barbaro ever since the horse's catastrophic breakdown in last May's Preakness Stakes.
Three months after Barbaro was euthanized, the Web site still gets 6,000 to 7,000 visits a day, said Alex Brown, an exercise rider at the Fair Hill (Md.) Training Center who runs the site. Brown had provided daily updates during Barbaro's stay at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.
Even more astounding, Brown said, there are still 1,500 messages being left on the site each day.
"You can absolutely say that the Fans of Barbaro community has grown since he was euthanized," Brown said.
Even before Barbaro's death, the group had mobilized to support anti-horse-slaughter legislation in Congress. At this point, more than $200,000 has been raised and 580 horses have been saved from slaughter, organizers said.
At this event, one of the group's leaders said she realized that more people were calling Senate offices than just the people leaving messages on the Web site.
"There are a lot of people who never post," said Shelley Abrams, one of the organizers of the anti-slaughter drive. "But they read our posts and make calls and follow our directions. We really didn't know how strong this was."
At an auction on Saturday night, more than $16,000 was raised.
"The Fans of Barbaro brought their own personal artifacts," said Sharon Crumb, the chief organizer of the event. Crumb said that giving up photographs and other mementos was no small gesture.
"They're actually shrines," she said.
The passion at Delaware Park was real. The most graphic example: One woman had a tattoo of Barbaro across her back.
The demographic was heavily moms and grandmoms. Some followed Barbaro's career. Many became caught up after Barbaro got to New Bolton. The emotional centerpiece of the day may have been when ESPN's Jeannine Edwards read a message from Edgar Prado, Barbaro's jockey.
"Those who saw him saw greatness," said Prado, who called riding Barbaro's the biggest thrill of his life other than the birth of his children. Prado said he dreamed of an afterlife where "I hope we can be reunited for one more ride."
To Barbaro's fans, Prado said, "We must continue to raise our voices together."
There wasn't an ounce of cynicism in the tent, where activities went on all day as the horses raced by on the track. Although an NBC documentary about Barbaro was preempted on the East Coast yesterday by an overtime NHL playoff game, it was screened at Delaware Park. It took about a minute for tissues to come out during the screening, at tables all over the tent.
There also was wild cheering when Barbaro made his big move at the Kentucky Derby, as the announcer shouted, "Here comes Barbaro! The undefeated Barbaro!" More cheering as the screens showed Barbaro winning the Derby by 61/2 lengths, the largest winning margin in six decades.
But as the action in the documentary cut to Pimlico, site of the Preakness, more tissues came out. One woman said, "I can't watch this." She held a Delaware Park racing program in front of her face, then walked out of the tent, returning after the Preakness was shown.
Earlier, Gretchen Jackson said she had met a woman from Panama City, Fla. The woman had cancer and had come to Pennsylvania over the summer to drop off a religious medal for Barbaro.
Roy Jackson wore a hat signed with the names of as many Fans of Barbaro as could fit. Jackson noted this name right off the bat: "Grandma Bea."
The Jacksons are flying to Louisville, Ky., on Friday and looking forward to seeing a film of last year's race shown in the Kentucky Derby Museum. They will be honored between races on Saturday at Churchill Downs. They are still hopeful of getting a horse-racing museum up and running in this area. They have talked about how that could be the final resting place for Barbaro's ashes.
Yesterday, the seventh race at Delaware Park was designated the Fans of Barbaro Trophy race. The winner, Liger, trained by Delaware Park regular Michael Petro and ridden by his brother Nicholas, may have more of a following from now on.
Talking about the movement of sorts that has sprung up in Barbaro's name, Roy Jackson said, "I think we thought things by now would slow down, but they really haven't. I don't think we comprehended how widespread this is."