Barbaro was foaled
only in late April 2003, didn't run a race until last October and, after
competing three times on turf (as the son of renowned turf sire Dynaformer),
didn't race on dirt until February. He has never raced with fewer than 34 days
between starts. Standing nearly 17 hands high, Barbaro is so powerful and
rambunctious that Matz has hesitated to sit on his back. Yet in full flight the
colt is a picture of grace. "He's so smooth, you could sit up on him and
drink a cup of tea," says Kim Brette, whose husband, Peter, is Matz's
assistant and Barbaro's exercise rider. Barbaro's long, gathering stride should
be a potent weapon in a race filled with early speed. "He doesn't mind
getting caught behind horses, he doesn't mind getting dirt in his face,"
says Matz. "And I feel real confident about the [11/4-mile] distance
It is always a
struggle to get a good 3-year-old to Churchill Downs, but Matz had a trying
winter in other ways as well. On Dec. 16 D.D., 43, was found to have a form of
thyroid cancer; she underwent surgery on Jan. 9 and has been told by her
doctors that she is cancer-free. "A lot of people helped us through that
time," says Michael. The couple has four children, ages three to nine.
(Michael has two grown children from a previous marriage.) Seventeen years
after Flight 232 the cancer episode has been another reminder of the value of
every day of life.
The presence of
the Roth siblings at Churchill Downs will reinforce that message. In 1996 most
of the family attended a post-Olympic celebration for Matz. He has not seen the
Roths since then, but Leslie and her husband, Don, have stayed in touch with
him and D.D., exchanging letters and Christmas cards. Jody, 31, a financial
planner, lives in Fort Collins, Colo., with his wife and daughter. Melissa, who
has an engineering degree from Purdue, lives in Denver with her family. Travis,
26, recently earned his Masters in water resources at the University of Wyoming
(where Don is dean of the graduate school).
They are vibrant,
successful adults, helped along one day by two strangers in a cornfield. "I
know we feel a connection to Michael and D.D," says Melissa. "They
really are a part of us."
Saturday they will pull for a horse. "I hope he wins," says Travis,
once a scared little boy on a falling airplane. "But to be honest, it
doesn't really matter. Michael's life was a success a long time ago."