In April 2005 the
2-year-old Barbaro was sent to Matz's Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.,
to begin training for the racetrack. When Brette, 40, a native of England and
former champion jockey in Dubai, first worked Barbaro, he assumed he was aboard
a 3-year-old. "He was so balanced and strong," says Brette, who became
the colt's regular exercise rider. "You don't see that in such a young
Matz was so
enamored of Barbaro, yet so respectful of his strength, that he asked Brette to
come out of retirement to ride the colt in his first start last October. "I
thought about it," says Brette, "but I wasn't sure I had the
lungs." Jose Caraballo rode Barbaro to two victories as a 2-year-old;
Prado, who won the Belmont in 2002 and '04, took over this winter with the same
result. A day before the Derby, Matz stood outside Barn 42 on the Churchill
backstretch and told SI, "The surprise for me would be if he loses. This is
the kind of horse that gives you confidence."
There was one
harrowing moment on Derby day. Upon reaching the saddling stall in the paddock,
Barbaro reared and twisted, banging his head against a wooden wall. Once
saddled, however, he was positively regal. At nearly 17 hands high, Barbaro
towered over many horses in the field. Yet he has an athleticism that belies
his size. Breaking from the No. 8 post Barbaro stumbled out of the gate, which
can be suicidal in a race with such a large and anxious field, but Prado was
able to quickly get him into fourth place, just off the lead.
He cruised down
the backstretch, moving comfortably behind crisp fractions of 22.63 for the
first quarter mile, 46.07 for the half and 1:10.88 for three quarters.
"Every step of the way he was running so easy," said Prado, who won his
first Derby in his seventh start. "Each time, he scares me a little
more." When Prado asked Barbaro to run with three eighths of a mile to go,
the Derby became laughable. Three jumps before the finish Prado eased up,
letting the big horse drift under the wire and into his gallop-out.
Barbaro had gone
off as the 6-1 second betting choice, minimally behind Illinois Derby winner
Sweetnorthernsaint, who finished a tiring seventh after challenging on the
backstretch. Among the other favorites, only Santa Anita Derby winner Brother
Derek was driving at the finish, to a dead heat for fourth with 24-1 shot
light-racing approach leaves him with a fresh horse for the races ahead.
"I'd be lying if I said this isn't what I had in mind all along," he
said on Monday. Any of Saturday's also-rans will need significant improvement
to threaten Barbaro on May 20 at Pimlico or on June 10 at Belmont.
A familiar feeling
of anticipation embraces Barbaro. Minutes after the trophy presentation in the
Churchill Downs infield, D.D. Matz shuffled back across the track in her Derby
dress and heels. "I feel like I'm walking through fog," she said.
"I feel like I'm in a dream." A sport shares her emotion and wills the
moment to last five more weeks.