They share your memories. Roy and Gretchen Jackson do - but they have so many more of their own. The Jacksons remember every minute of Preakness day, 2006. It was their horse, Barbaro, who broke down shortly after leaving the starting gate, two weeks after Barbaro had romped in the Kentucky Derby.

The Jacksons can remember where they were, who they talked to, their jockey walking over and saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" . . . even the policemen who helped Barbaro get out of Pimlico Race Course, on the road to the New Bolton Center in Chester County, where the horse had surgery for his catastrophic leg fractures the next day, just down the road from their own home in West Grove.

It was Gretchen Jackson who said that Preakness day, "You can expect being beaten. You didn't think about this. Poor Barbaro. Nobody expects this."

Their memories have never kept the Jacksons away from Pimlico. By the racetrack's count, when an impeccably bred colt named Divining Rod, owned by the Jacksons' Lael Stables, leaves the Preakness starting gate on Saturday, he will be the 27th horse the Jacksons have run at Pimlico since the 2006 Preakness.

It is, however, the first Preakness horse for the Jacksons since Barbaro.

They said they didn't allow the history or the guarantee of increased media attention to color their decision to run in the Preakness.

When Gretchen Jackson says, "We've moved on from Barbaro," she quickly adds, "It's always there. It's not going to change running a horse in the Preakness. We've had horses run [at Pimlico] on Preakness day. We never forget it but you don't let it change your life."

Divining Rod could have run in the Kentucky Derby. Derby Fever is a time-tested term, familiar to even the most well-credentialed of thoroughbred horse owners. If your horse qualifies for the Derby, you almost can't help but dream of the possibilities. The Jacksons are no strangers to those dreams, but they didn't have to wonder about what it's like to be in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

That partly explains why Divining Rod, also bred by the Jacksons, skipped the Derby but will be at Pimlico for the 140th Preakness Stakes.

Of course, their memories of Barbaro and the Preakness are entirely different, and part of the history of the sport. Barbaro's breakdown and months-long stay at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square and subsequent euthanization the following January due to laminitis are all part of that history.

When Divining Rod qualified for this year's Kentucky Derby by winning the Lexington Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland, the Jacksons were able to look at the whole thing with some degree of logic since they had another horse in that 2006 Derby, a horse named Showing Up, which, as it happens, had won the Lexington Stakes that year.

"It probably colored the decision," Gretchen Jackson said Monday, remembering how Barbaro won the Derby after a five-week layoff while Showing Up finished sixth, the official chart noting Showing Up "was just off the winner briefly when entering the stretch and flattened out in the drive."

So Divining Rod will be fresh for the Preakness, a capable contender, not an afterthought, although Derby winner American Pharoah and top Derby finishers Firing Line and Dortmund will earn more attention at the betting windows.

The Jacksons realize they will get plenty of attention themselves because of Barbaro.

"You never forget it, and you're so grateful, but it has not been a stumbling block for us," Gretchen Jackson said of owning Barbaro. "Maybe I'll be poetic - it's been a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block. We learned from it. . . . It's easier as time passes to remember the good."

The Jacksons have their personal memories of the day Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby by over six lengths. They can remember their grandson that week, always on the elevator at the hotel in Louisville, evading his parents. Another grandchild, a 4-year-old, being lost in the post-race celebration, only to turn up in the arms of Edgar Prado, the jockey.

Of course, the whole thing turned into a sad saga two weeks later. Talking to a Pimlico official for a press statement last week, Gretchen Jackson said of Barbaro's hospitalization, "It was incredibly stressful because you second-guessed yourself every morning when you got up or when you saw him. One day, he was great, and two weeks later, you were considering putting him down. It was a real roller-coaster ride. It was very stressful, being in constant contact with press and people you didn't know and being asked to deal with facts and deal with emotions all the time. It was hard."

"What sticks out in my mind is the huge support we had from everywhere, the track, the police, the public," Roy Jackson said Monday, while on the phone with his wife. "It still goes on. We still get the occasional letter or note. He was so loved."

There was such a community that sprung up supporting Barbaro that a birthday party was held at Delaware Park in the year after he died. A woman showed up with a tattoo of Barbaro on her back.

"His name got us into the government to see who we felt were important people that could help the anti-slaughter bills go through and federalization of drug testing," Gretchen Jackson said.

As for Divining Rod, sired by Tapit, who has turned into a breeding star, the Jacksons obviously watched him closely since he won his November debut by 2 3/4 lengths at Laurel Park, not far from Pimlico.

"I always have a high opinion of our horses," Gretchen Jackson said. "He was a nice horse, he was certainly bred to be a nice horse. You certainly have anticipation based on breeding alone. You hoped he had more talent than he was able to display [in earlier races], because of his gate position and his immaturity. In the Lexington he showed maturity even though he had the same gate position, number one."

"He's just progressed," Roy Jackson said. "Gretchen used the word boisterous. He gives you sort of a 'here I am' look. He looks like he's full of himself."

Trained by Arnaud Delacour out of the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., the same place Barbaro was based in Michael Matz's barn, Divining Rod was on the front in the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and faded to third in both those early Derby preps. In the Lexington, his owners noted that Divining Rod kept a stalking position before moving on to win. That's the maturity they were noting.

Not succumbing to Derby Fever doesn't mean the owners still don't dream big.

"We always dream," Roy Jackson said.

"Are you kidding?" Gretchen Jackson added. "We don't put money on it but we dream."

"We had a foal born yesterday and we dream about that," Roy Jackson said.

Divining Rod's Stakes Record

Divining Rod, owned by Gretchen and Roy Jackson of Chester County, who also owned Barbaro, will run in Saturday's Preakness after skipping the Kentucky Derby. Here is his profile and stakes record:

Profile

Jockey: Julien R. Leparoux   Trainer: Arnaud Delacour

Owner: Lael Stables         Record: 5 starts: 2-1-2

Earnings: $249,800

Stakes Races

Date   Race   Track   Finish   

4-11   Lexington Stakes   Keeneland   1st

3-7   Tampa Bay Derby    Tampa Bay   3d

1-23   Sam F. Davis Stakes   Tampa Bay   2d

SOURCE: downthestretchs.com

EndText

@jensenoffcampus