Barbaro Trainer Ponders What May Have Been

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 1, 2006; 3:24 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Barbaro was supposed to be taking on Bernardini and Lava Man in the Breeders' Cup Classic this week, with Horse of the Year honors at stake.

"It's a shame that rivalry never happened," trainer Michael Matz said, his voice trailing off.

Matz is back at Churchill Downs, working in the same barn area and leading his horse for the Breeders' Cup along the paths where Barbaro walked on his way to a dominating victory in the Kentucky Derby.

Barbaro's career ended with a devastating misstep in the Preakness.

The 3-year-old colt was undefeated going into the Derby. He won by 6 1/2 lengths, the largest margin in 60 years, and was touted as the next Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978.

"I thought for sure this horse would win the Triple Crown," Matz said Tuesday. "When he foundered, I thought, 'They're going to put him down,' but he didn't want any part of it."

The first Saturday in May "seems like it was a long time ago," Matz said. "I never really got a chance to reflect."

As he did so, Matz's voice broke and tears welled in his blue eyes. Moments later, he was composed and focused on saddling 4-year-old filly Round Pond in Saturday's $2 million Distaff.

"It's nice to be back having such fond memories from before," Matz said. "I just hope we have the same results."

Gretchen Jackson, who with her husband, Roy, owns Barbaro, understands how Matz is emotionally overwhelmed this week.

"He's had a lot of time to think about what happened," she said.

Barbaro remains at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa. His once-shattered right leg is nearly healed, while the hoof on his left hind leg, struck by laminitis, is beginning to grow back.

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