Raising the bar

With 6 1/2 -length victory, Barbaro stays perfect

Kentucky Derby

May 07, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- From the moment Barbaro reached the paddock yesterday, he was ready to get down to business. The 132nd Kentucky Derby was minutes away and the big dark bay colt was kicking.

Trainer Michael Matz and jockey Edgar Prado stood in the stall, away from any errant leg, while Barbaro was saddled on the bricks.

"Let's go win our first Kentucky Derby," Matz said, just before lifting Prado into the saddle.

Matz made it sound easy, and Barbaro, after stumbling out of the starting gate, made it look easy, too, as he recovered and then made his big move out of the second turn. With Prado asking little and getting much, Barbaro pulled away from the 19 horses bunched behind him and streaked to a dominating 6 1/2 -length victory, the fifth-largest winning margin in race history and the largest since Assault won by eight lengths in 1946.

Barbaro, the son of Dynaformer out of La Ville Rouge, completed the 1 1/4 -mile course in 2 minutes, 1.36 seconds and won $1,453,200. He is 6-for-6 lifetime and will return to his home base at Fair Hill, where Matz will decide if he will pursue the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"You all saw it," Matz said. "What can I say?"

The former Olympian, who won a silver medal in equestrian show horse jumping, could have said, "I told you so," but took the high road yesterday, after being badgered for weeks about giving his horse too much rest before the Derby.

With his victory, Barbaro became the first horse since Needles 50 years ago to win the race off a five-week break. He also became only the sixth horse to come into the Derby undefeated and leave undefeated.

The lightly regarded Bluegrass Cat finished second and Steppenwolfer was third, an additional two lengths back.

Morning-line favorite Brother Derek, who is trained by Dan Hendricks and came in to the Derby with rave reviews and the 18th post, finished fourth in a dead heat with Jazil.

Sweetnorthernsaint, owned by Maryland residents Ted Theos and Joe Balsamo and trained by Baltimorean Michael Trombetta, went off as the betting favorite at race time and finished seventh. Point Determined, a Maryland bred, was ninth.

From the beginning Matz, who has been training thoroughbreds for seven years, said he was determined to go to the Kentucky Derby with a fresh horse. He said that while competing for the Olympic equestrian show jumping team, the team had run its horses into the ground preparing for the Games and had no horse left when the competition actually started.

"I swore at that point, if I ever trained a horse, I would never put myself in that position again," he said last month, prior to the Florida Derby. "When I get to the Kentucky Derby, I want to make sure I give my horse a fair chance to win."

Yesterday, he said his whole purpose was not only to give Barbaro a fair chance at the Derby, but the Triple Crown.

"That has been the whole purpose of planning for five weeks' rest," Matz said. "To me, two weeks, obviously for any horse, is probably coming back too quick, let alone winning the Kentucky Derby.

"So that was the reason to give him eight weeks off [before the Florida Derby] and then five [before the Derby], to try to have a fresh horse. It looks like we did it. We're going to bring him back [to the Preakness], hopefully, if everything comes well, in two weeks. If we've made a mistake, we'll know it in two weeks. But I think if we had run closer to the Derby and then tried to bring him back for a race in two weeks and then another in three [the Belmont], that, to me, would be too much."

Certainly Barbaro, named for a family hunting dog, was fresh yesterday. Prado, who, like Matz and owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, won his first Kentucky Derby, said he never worried about the outcome.

While other jockeys fought for position and tried to steady their horses amid the bumps and grinds, Prado had little trouble.

"My horse started in the 20th hole," said jockey Mike Smith of Flashy Bull. "Every time I tried to get inside, I'd be knocked wide again. There was a lot of knocking going on, but that's no excuse. Look at Barbaro - it didn't bother him did it?"

Nothing bothered Barbaro. He stumbled out of the gate, but recovered easily, something Prado has come to expect.

"My horse did everything so easy," he said. "I was very confident. It was just a matter of time until I turned him loose and then you see what happened when I did."

When he did, Barbaro shot to the front, leaving early leader Keyed Entry to finish last and fellow pacesetter Sinister Minister to come home 16th.

"From the beginning, he was galloping along on the back side and was just very happy with a little hold on the bridle," Prado said. "Around the three, four poles, those horses in front of us started dying, and we just were riding and he was covering so much ground. We went along pretty easy ... I wasn't even moving a hand. Then I looked back and saw nobody."

Prado smiled.

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