In Fla., Barbaro lays doubt to rest

Matz's colt stays undefeated, earns trip to Kentucky


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Barbaro, who accidentally kicked trainer Michael Matz while being feisty in the saddling area before walking placidly to the starting gate, answered all of the nagging questions that trailed him into yesterday's Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby.

Could he run sharply after an eight-week layoff? Could he handle the difficult No. 10 post? Could he also handle a fast, dirt track?

For Barbaro, who started his career on grass, it was like winning a trifecta. The answer to all three questions was yes.

A son of Dynaformer, Barbaro won a heart-pounding duel down the stretch to beat Sharp Humor by a half-length. It was Barbaro's fifth straight victory, and left no doubt about his future -- assuming he has come out of the race sound.

Five weeks from now, Barbaro will run in the Kentucky Derby as an undefeated 3-year-old.

"It was a real good horse race," said Matz, who has befuddled veteran trainers by spacing his horse's races from five to eight weeks apart.

"It was two horses with a lot of determination. ... This was the first time a horse eyeballed him and he got it done. He's a good, competitive horse. He got his head in front and kept it there.

"You know, his first few races he won by eight, eight and four lengths. Every race is getting tougher, but he continues to answer every question we ask him."

Barbaro broke from the No. 10 post yesterday, a spot other trainers hoped would give him trouble. But the colt, owned and bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who live in Pennsylvania, about a half-hour from the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, where Barbaro is based, hardly seemed to notice.

He broke sharply and angled quickly toward the rail, taking up position just off the shoulder of Sharp Humor, the speed horse.

"My horse was in control from the beginning," said jockey Edgar Prado, who loosened the reins and moved up to a neck-and-neck battle with Sharp Humor through the second turn.

The two horses started down the stretch shoulder-to-shoulder, with Barbaro nudging ahead and Sharp Humor coming back. Then, just past the 16th pole, Barbaro took the lead and held it.

"I think we gave him the biggest run for the money he's ever had," said Sharp Humor's trainer, Dale Romans, who said he would send Sharp Humor to the Kentucky Derby.

"I think he earned it," he said. "That's a nice horse that beat us ... but my horse just fought so hard and kept looking like he was going to win."

Barbaro paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.80. He completed the 1 1/8 -mile race in a solid 1:49.01, and for the effort earned $600,000. Sharp Humor took home $190,000 and Sunriver, who finished third, won $100,000.

"So many things were happening at the finish," Prado said. "All the people, cameras, the big screen. He was looking around a little, like the last time we ran here. He was just looking for competition. I don't think anybody could go by him today.

"I like to see that kind of finish. He had something left. He wasn't all out. ... And he cleared up a lot of doubts. I didn't have any doubts. I thought if he ran only half the way in dirt as he did on the turf I'd be happy. On the turf, he is magnificent, and there's nothing wrong with him on dirt."

Prado, however, is still not committed to Barbaro for the Derby. Saturday, he will ride Keyed Entry in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York, and the week after that he'll ride Strong Contender in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Kentucky.

"It's a nice position to be in," Prado said. "I'm very grateful that none of these owners are pushing me."

Matz, who would like a commitment, but can live without it for a while longer, shrugged.

"If he doesn't want the mount," Matz said, "I'm sure others will."

Mike Battaglia, who sets the odds for the Kentucky Derby, said after the race Barbaro had made a believer out of him.

"I had doubts, but he ran a huge race," Battaglia said. "Leaving from the 10th hole is a tough thing to do at this racetrack. He has to be second choice right now, maybe first, depending on what Brother Derek does."

Notes -- Flashy Bull finished seventh, but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he would throw out the result and take the colt to the Kentucky Derby. ... Sam's Ace, who flew in from California for the race, finished a strong fourth to the delight of his trainer, Doug O'Neill. "The favorites ran one-two, but from our post [11] and considering how lightly raced we were, this was just a super effort. We showed today that distance isn't going to be a problem. We'll hopefully be able to go on from here."

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