Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Matz- an amazing person

Michael Matz living an improbable dream
Knight Ridder Newspapers
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - You wouldn't believe his story unless it were a movie, and in that sense, Michael Matz has a celluloid quality about him.
See, some of us live lives, and some of us live lives.
"So far, I've lived a full life," the modest trainer admitted in the week leading up to the world's most famous race.
Yes, winning a silver medal and carrying your country's flag in an Olympic games, marrying the King Ranch heiress and saving three young lives in a horrific plane crash qualify as an existence rich in experience for many, let alone one.
So why wouldn't he win a Kentucky Derby?
And Saturday, Matz did, when the magnificent horse he trains, Barbaro, made a shambles of a top-flight field in the 132nd running.
"I really don't know what to say," Matz said, shaking his head.
It has to be real, because you wouldn't believe it unless it was.
This particular Derby cup runneth over with great stories, starting with Dan Hendricks, his spirit resurrected by the California juggernaut Brother Derek. That was the Santa Anita Derby winner Hendricks trained from a wheelchair after a motocross accident rendered him paralyzed from the waist down two years ago.
There was Lawyer Ron, running for the estate of the late Jim Hines, the Owensboro businessman who drowned in February and whose children hoped he would be honored by his prize colt winning the roses.
There was Lawyer Ron's trainer, Bob Holthus, in failing health at 71, hoping to cap a long career with his first sip of Derby champagne.
There was Beverly Lewis, the owner of Point Determined and part of racing's first couple, in her first Derby without her husband, Bob, who died of heart failure in February.
And there was Matz, 55, an Olympian and true-life hero rolled into one.
There was good reason to root for them all.
But when the gates opened, sentiment was trumped by mass and muscle, by a beautiful animal schooling a tough field in head-turning fashion.
"It's obvious," said Matz, "he is a terrific athlete."
His domination was obvious in the reaction of Hendricks, watching the race on a 13-inch NBCmonitor in the Churchill tunnel with his three young boys draped around him. Hendricks' shoulders sagged when it became clear that Brother Derek, a dead-heat fourth-place finisher, was not Barbaro's match.
Neither was Steppenwolfer, who finished third.
"He's better than I thought," said Danny Peitz, Steppenwolfer's trainer. "Ithought Barbaro was a very good grass horse and a good dirt horse, but he's obviously better than that."
Perhaps as good as the Matz story itself.
Yes, in case you're wondering, Matz did get to see the three Roth children, whose lives he saved during a United Airlines plane crash in 1989 that killed 111 people. The Roth siblings, now ages 26 to 31, were guests of Churchill Downs.
While Matz and his wife, D.D., both passengers on that plane, have stayed in touch with the Roths, it was but the second time they had met in person, the first being at a hometown ceremony in West Grove, Pa., ( A few towns over from us!) honoring Matz for his 1996 Olympic team equestrian medal.
"It was nice to see them again," Matz said, "and it was nice to see that they're doing so well."
Although maybe not as well as the trainer himself, who had the added satisfaction on Saturday of proving his detractors wrong.
Matz had encountered critics who doubted a horse could win the Derby off a five-week layoff, the time between Barbaro's win in the Florida Derby and his entrance into yesterday's starting gate. Matz didn't disagree with the argument so much as fail to understand the logic.
"He's the most stubborn person I've ever known," said Billy Glass, Matz's friend of 40 years, who wore a Barbaro hat and a steady beam. "There's no compromising with him. That's the way it's always been with him. If you don't want to hear what he thinks, don't ask him."
Barbaro did the talking, and afterward, as Matz himself smiled in the spotlight, it hit you that the handsome trainer looked a little like English actor Ralph Fiennes, a former Oscar nominee of class and distinction.
Maybe Fiennes can play Matz in the movie.
But first, a Triple Crown awaits.
Who among us can say Michael Matz, or Barbaro, can't accomplish that?

Pennsylvanians again have Kentucky Derby-winner to root for

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Pennsylvanians again have a Kentucky Derby-winning horse to root for.

Barbaro, who is owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson of West Grove, Chester County, blew away the rest of the field yesterday in Louisville, Kentucky.

The undefeated three-year-old is also trained by Collegeville trainer Michael Matz.

Barbaro becomes the sixth undefeated winner, following Philadelphia Park's Smarty Jones in 2004. Next up for Barbero in the Triple Crown quest is the Preakness in two weeks.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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