As best they can, Roy and Gretchen Jackson avoid their memories of Preakness Day 2006.
"I've just sort of erased it from my mind," Gretchen Jackson said earlier this week.
Saturday will be a test: The Jacksons return to Pimlico Race Course for the first time, driving down to Baltimore from their home in Chester County to present the trophy for the ninth race, the inaugural Barbaro Stakes. They'll stay for the 12th race, the 132d Preakness Stakes.
Earlier, after the seventh race, a ceremony will honor Barbaro, who was injured at the Preakness and euthanized in January after eight months at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.
Above Pimlico, the Wings of Blue, the U.S. Air Force's elite parachute-jump team, will drop out of a plane. A parachutist will carry a flag with the colors of the Jacksons' Lael Stables and present it to the Jacksons in a winner's circle ceremony honoring their ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner.
She and her husband were talking in the family room of their West Grove home. On a wall behind Gretchen Jackson was the now-famous lithograph of some hounds, including the one named Barbaro on the right, which gave their horse his name. Now over the fireplace: An oil painting of Barbaro - two Barbaros actually, one in shadow. Just below it on the mantle was the gleaming Kentucky Derby trophy.
Right now, Barbaro's ashes are in a "heavy wooden box" in a closet, Roy Jackson said. The Jacksons would like to bury those ashes nearby as part of a local horse racing museum, if some land can be found.
Until then, there is no great significance to where they have the ashes, Roy Jackson said - just a spot where they had an empty shelf. They probably would have buried him on their 190-acre farm, they said, except they believe a lot of people would like to be able to visit.
"I've been so tempted to go dip in there and throw some on our fields," Gretchen Jackson said of the ashes.
They do feel like caretakers of Barbaro's legacy now, the Jacksons said. They talk of all the issues that have cropped up, regarding anti-horse slaughter and laminitis research and even safer racetrack surfaces. They recently donated $250,000 to the Belmont Child Care Association to start The Lael Stable Fund endowment, going toward helping backside workers. They hope the movement started at Belmont Park goes national.
The Jacksons also speak of preserving Barbaro's legacy on the track.
"I think the whole injury really overshadowed what he did as a race horse," Roy Jackson said.
Boiling down that legacy, Gretchen Jackson simply said, "Six and a half lengths," referring to his margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby, the largest in six decades, accomplished without the need of a whip by jockey Edgar Prado. And she added that he was a champion on any surface or track condition. "Grass to dirt, slop, dry - anything. He could run."
During Barbaro's eight-month stay at New Bolton, Gretchen Jackson said she did worry about turning him into America's Pet.
"I had trouble when he was touching noses with the cow or playing with the cat," Gretchen Jackson said. "I just wanted him to have the stature of a Kentucky Derby winner. We didn't have him as a pet. A lot of people saw him as a pet. He was much more than a pet."
They understand how many people were transfixed by their horse's struggle. Not just the now-famous "Fans of Barbaro," who formed a community of sorts and even sent along three batches of roses to Gretchen Jackson on Mother's Day.
But Barbaro's saga struck a wider chord. One example: During his stay at New Bolton, two terra cotta flasks were brought to the veterinary hospital, sent by Princess Haya of Jordan, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and owner of Bernardini, winner of last year's Preakness. The flasks contained Holy Water from the Jordan River, which was sprinkled on Barbaro as intended.
Before Barbaro, the Jacksons considered themselves private people, to the point where Roy Jackson really didn't like it when his mother's maiden name, which happened to be Rockefeller, was printed in the newspaper before last year's Derby.
Now, Gretchen Jackson jokes about being careful to avoid cursing when they're watching one of their horses run.
"We have a responsibility," Gretchen Jackson said. "But it's required us to be more than we are. I've got to pay attention to being the best me."
They have spent time planning for a museum honoring the horses from the Mid-Atlantic region. Not just the recent Triple Crown success Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex. But also the region's ownership ties to greats such as Ruffian and Kelso.
They talk about maybe some retired horses could be stabled there, to add to the experience, understanding that Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, for instance, are busy these days at Kentucky breeding farms.
To specifically honor Barbaro, they have some sculptures in mind, including "one in motion," Gretchen Jackson said.
Finding the right spot is the issue now. At first, they thought of New Bolton, but that doesn't seem likely.
"The thinking really is we're a hospital, a research facility," Barbaro's surgeon, Dean Richardson, said last week. "It's not really within our objective as an institution."
Delaware Park can expect a phone call from the Jacksons inquiring if the racetrack where Barbaro first ran has interest in housing a museum.
"We're eyeing the ninth hole," Gretchen Jackson joked, referring to the golf course at Delaware Park. "We think the green could be an excellent pasture."
They enjoyed their trip to the Kentucky Derby, they said, viewing it as a chance to see the Run for the Roses from the outside-in instead of the inside-out as they had the year before. Although watching a replay of last year's Derby on a screen on race day was a little tough, Roy Jackson, and they couldn't help but watch this year's race and make a comparison with their own horse.
Saturday, Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, will saddle his 3-year-old Chelokee, the favorite in the Barbaro Stakes. The Jacksons know as well as anybody that the racetrack doesn't guarantee a storybook ending. However, they're hoping for one.
"We'd love to present Michael the trophy," Gretchen Jackson said.