May 4, 2006
Matz hopes Barbaro can make it six-for-six
By Steve Ginsburg
LOUISVILLE (Reuters) - Speaking softy with his hands tucked
in his back pockets, former equestrian rider Michael Matz says
he is convinced quality race horses create genius trainers.
"Let me tell you, it's good horses that make good
trainers," the handler of Kentucky Derby contender Barbaro told
reporters Wednesday in the stable area at Churchill Downs.
Despite his modesty, few can argue it is Matz's immense
talent that has enabled him to move seamlessly from three-times
U.S. Olympian in show jumping to top thoroughbred trainer.
While he has some impressive victories as a trainer to his
credit, Matz can claim the crown jewel if his undefeated dark
bay colt, Barbaro, can win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
With experienced Edgar Prado in the saddle, the muscular
Florida Derby champion is listed at 4-1 in the morning line,
along with Arkansas Derby winner Lawyer Ron.
Brother Derek is the early top choice at 3-1 but with
Lawyer Ron bolting from the 17 slot and Brother Derek alongside
at 18, Barbaro's number eight post might look inviting to
The 55-year-old Matz is gambling that a five-week layoff
since Barbaro's Florida Derby victory at Gulfstream Park will
not pose a problem for the talented son of Dynaformer.
"Everybody's yelling, 'Five weeks! Five weeks!' I don't
know who came up with that," said Matz. "All the horsemen I've
spoken to don't have a problem with it."
Matz's naysayers point to the fact that no horse has won
the Derby with that much time between starts since Needles in
It might be foolish, however, to bet against Matz, a
Pennsylvania native who has a history of beating the odds.
On July 19, 1989, Matz was a passenger on a United Airlines
flight from Denver to Chicago that crashed in a cornfield in
Sioux City, Iowa. Of the 285 passengers and 11 crew members on
the plane, 112 died.
Seven years after the crash, Matz was chosen by his fellow
Olympic team captains to carry the American flag in the closing
ceremonies at the Atlanta Games, where he won a silver medal.
Now Matz can make his move to trainer complete if Barbaro
can make it six wins in a row and hit the wire first in the Run
for the Roses. Win or lose, the trainer said he will be
thrilled to be at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
"When I was in show-jumping, I had to find a way to get
good horses," Matz said. "And when we started a stable, this
was what we worked for, tried to better horses, horses of
"People aren't going to send you those horses in the
beginning because, well, why should they? When I had show
horses I had the top 10 percent. When I started with the race
horses, I was in the bottom 10 percent.
"I couldn't be happier within eight years getting to the
Derby. Some people spend a lifetime not getting there."
And why is he still training instead of golfing full-time?
"I've got six children," he said with a laugh. "They've got