- VAN'S TOP 10 All-Men's ClubsOctober 08, 2001
- THEY SAID ITEdited by Robert W. Creamer | December 20, 1982
- 2011 REGULAR SEASON scheduleWEEK 1August 04, 2011
No Joy Ride
Trainer Michael Matz got his first Breeders Cup victory, but a tragic spill brought back memories of Barbaro
THE SYMMETRY was painful for trainer Michael Matz. Six months ago he saddled 3-year-old Barbaro for a dominant victory in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, then two weeks later Barbaro suffered a career-ending injury in the Preakness, launching a tale of unlikely survival that has consumed the sport and transformed Matz into a tragic public figure.
Last Saturday, Matz returned to Louisville for the eight-race Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships and won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff with 4-year-old Round Pond, a 14--1 shot whom Matz began training in June. The finish was eerily similar to Barbaro's, as Round Pond drew clear under jockey Edgar Prado through the most storied homestretch in racing. "The first thing that crossed my mind," said Prado, who was also Barbaro's rider, "was how good this was for Michael Matz." But after a moment's celebration Matz learned that two other fillies in the race, favorite Fleet Indian and second betting choice Pine Island, had broken down. Pine Island, trained by Shug McGaughey, suffered such severe injuries to her left foreleg that she was euthanized on the track. Fleet Indian will survive, but she will not race again.
"I was very excited about my horse," Matz said afterward. "But then I got to the winner's circle and heard a veterinarian talking on the phone about fractures and saying two horses had gone down. What can I say? I feel so terrible for their owners and everyone involved."
Matz had spent Breeders' Cup week in Barn 41 on the Churchill Downs backstretch, graciously fielding the inevitable questions about returning to the scene of Barbaro's Derby victory. Early in the week his eyes welled with tears; later he smiled and said, "[The Derby win] was obviously a good time for us. We'll never know what could have happened."
He filled some of the hours at the track by talking with McGaughey, who, like Matz, was running only one horse in the Breeders' Cup. "It was my horse, then a hay stall and then Shug's horse," said Matz. "We talked about how well our horses were doing. I remember saying to Shug, 'I'd like to have the exacta with our two horses.'"
Pine Island, who won the Alabama and Gazelle stakes in New York during the summer, was never a factor in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Under jockey Javier Castellano, Pine Island appeared to bobble slightly as she passed the grandstand for the first time, then collapsed entering the backstretch with a compound fracture of her front left ankle. Castellano was thrown over the filly's right shoulder but not injured.
Fleet Indian, winner of eight consecutive races since November 2005, was running 11th when she injured the suspensory ligament in her left foreleg as she rounded the final turn. She is trained by Todd Pletcher, who started a record 17 horses in the Breeders' Cup but did not win a race.
Round Pond, meanwhile, rocketed to the lead under Prado just past the top of the stretch and drew away easily. It was her first victory in three races since Matz took over her training, and his first Breeders' Cup win. His empathy made all of this difficult to embrace. "It's like what happened to Barbaro," Matz said. "You don't know why it happens, but you're heartbroken."