Barbaro on 5-week plan

Sound program, not gap between prep and Derby, the guide for Md.-based horse

May 04, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- One of the things that has fascinated trainer Michael Matz this week leading up to Saturday's Kentucky Derby is how often he hears the same question.

The question boils down to this: How in the world does he think he can win the Kentucky Derby when his horse, Maryland-based Barbaro, ran his last prep race five weeks ago?

Matz would laugh if he weren't so sick of it.

"I don't understand it," Matz said. "I wish you could explain it to me. You tell me what prep races have been five weeks out from the Derby before this year. There haven't been any five weeks out, so how can anyone say it doesn't work?

"I don't know how you can criticize somebody for doing it just because nobody could go in a race at that time."

It has been 50 years since a horse - Needles - has won the Kentucky Derby after a five-week layoff.

Horsemen are as much creatures of habit as competitors in any other sport. They do things the way they do because it has always been done that way - unless someone tries something different and it works.

Years ago, trainers going to the Derby believed they had to bring their horses to Churchill Downs at least a month before the race to adjust. But trainers now bring their horses much later.

Bob and John along with Point Determined shipped in from California on Tuesday.

In 2003, former Maryland trainer Barclay Tagg shipped Funny Cide to Churchill the Wednesday before his Derby win. Today, Tagg's horse Showing Up, owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, is to arrive from New York.

The Jacksons, by the way, are the first owners to have two undefeated colts in the same Kentucky Derby.

Beside Showing Up, a lightly raced, but steadily maturing colt who is 3-for-3, the Jacksons own Barbaro, who is 5-for-5.

Roy Jackson said too much is being made of the five-week gap.

"I think Michael knows his horse and has made a plan to suit him," he said.

Another trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, is in the same situation as Matz. McLaughlin has two horses in Saturday's Derby, Flashy Bull and Jazil. Though Jazil - which was pronounced "ja-zill" in the Wood Memorial and is now pronounced "jaz-el" and McLaughlin said may become "jaz-zeal" if the sheik who owns him says so - ran three weeks ago, Flashy Bull's last race was with Barbaro in the Florida Derby.

"I think it is over the top, the way Matz has been grilled over this," McLaughlin said. "Flashy Bull's last race was the Florida Derby, too, and I haven't had one question.

"All the preps used to be three weeks out. Now, the Florida Derby is five. These animals aren't machines. ... You can't run a horse two weeks out and expect them to do their best."

In fact, Matz said he is taking a sound approach. Every year, horsemen complain the Triple Crown series is too tough on modern horses, with the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes scheduled two and three weeks apart.

He reasons Barbaro can at least start the Triple Crown with fresh legs, the way every coach tries to train his great athlete to be at his peak for the big events.

"I'm not trying to buck history in any way," Matz said. "We just came up with this plan. We're trying to make it as simple as possible. Our horse was in Florida. The plan that we came up with seemed to fit. He had three races in Florida, he shipped up to Keeneland, he goes to Churchill and runs.

"I don't know the history of the Kentucky Derby that well. I'm just trying to do what's best for my horse."

It just might work, but if it does, Matz better steel himself for the next repetitive question, because someone will surely ask: If a horse has been training for races five weeks apart, can he win two more races within five weeks?

Matz would surely love to have to hear the question.

"All I know," he said, "is that my goal was to get him to the Derby without overworking him. He's trained to be as good as he can be in this race - and if we win, next year everyone will want to come in off a prep five weeks out."

smm2me@aol.com

Too rested?

Barbaro is trying to become the first horse in 50 years to win a Kentucky Derby off a five-week rest from racing. A look at the layoffs for the field:

Two weeks (April 22)

Showing Up

Three weeks (April 15)

Bluegrass Cat

Lawyer Ron

Private Vow

Seaside Retreat

Sinister Minister

Steppenwolfer

Storm Treasure

Four weeks (April 8)

A.P. Warrior

Bob and John

Brother Derek

Cause to Believe

Deputy Glitters

Jazil

Keyed Entry

Point Determined

Sweetnorthernsaint

Five weeks (April 1)

Barbaro

Flashy Bull

Sharp Humor

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