In his first appearance at Pimlico Race Course since the industry's beloved horse, Barbaro, broke down in the first furlong of the Preakness and was hauled away in an ambulance, trainer Michael Matz was able to smile.
New memories were made yesterday in the name of an old favorite, as Chelokee, another promising young horse trained by Matz, came from behind and fittingly became the winner of the first Barbaro Stakes, formerly the Sir Barton Stakes.
As Matz made his way through a throng of television cameras and photographers waiting to capture his reaction in the winner's circle, Barbaro owner Gretchen Jackson grabbed him by the elbow and gave him a gentle squeeze on the arm.
"It was pretty big for me," Matz said. "To have a horse like Barbaro and what he gave to everybody ... yeah, it means a lot."
In December, while Barbaro was still recuperating from a broken leg, officials at the Maryland Jockey Club decided to rename the $100,000 race after Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who endured multiple surgeries, severe laminitis and died Jan. 29. Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Triple Crown.
"We thought, in light of what Barbaro meant to everybody as evidenced by everything that went on, we thought it made a lot of sense to name a race for him and to do it on Preakness Day, which was the day of his last race," said Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "We just thought it would be fitting. ... Little did I know that Michael Matz would have a horse to run in it and win."
Chelokee, a dark bay son of Cherokee Run, carried jockey Ramon Dominguez to a 4 3/4 -length victory in 1 minute, 43.44 seconds. It was the 3-year-old's first race since he placed third in the Florida Derby on March 31, and the horse had to overcome jockey Calvin Borel, who rode Stonehouse to an early lead.
"He got a perfect trip," Dominguez said of Chelokee. "He lost focus a little bit on the turn, so I had to get after him a little bit to get his attention. But he ran a really nice race."
Before the race began, members of the U.S. Air Force Academy parachuted onto the infield, and the last jumper carried a flag with the colors Barbaro wore. The flag, which read "Barbaro ... A nation's horse," was presented to owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson after the race.
"I wasn't as sad as a lot of people thought I might be," Gretchen Jackson said. "I've moved on from that spot. I tell myself I have to remember Barbaro as a great big, strong racehorse, and what happened here happened last year. We've moved on from that place."
Edgar Prado, the jockey who rode Barbaro, said that to race his best in yesterday's Preakness, the memory of Barbaro had to "stay in the jockeys' room."
"It's hard to come back to the place where the horse I love the most got hurt ... but I think it's time to move on and put this thing behind," said Prado, who finished fourth in the Preakness on C P West. "I come here to ride, and if I'm going to do the best and perform the best, I have to think about what I'm going to do on the track and not think about Barbaro and what happened a year ago."
Not everyone has been able to let go.
Joanne Kraft of Baltimore watched from her box seat in the sixth row last year, not far from where Barbaro collapsed. She said she still can't talk about the horse without tears welling in her eyes.
Kraft, who wore a blue "Riding with Barbaro" bracelet to support laminitis research, made a small sign that read "Barbaro" in blue and green letters. She drew wings coming from each side of the name.
"I wanted the Matzes to see there were people here who still care and remember, and always will," she said.
Alex Brown of Fair Hill came to know Barbaro because the horse was trained in the barn next to his. He started the Fans of Barbaro club, which he estimated to be about "3,000 strong now."
"Last year's event was just devastating," said Brown, who runs the Web site timwoolley racing.com. "So from that standpoint, it's tough, but I'm also of the notion that we should celebrate Barbaro, celebrate his legacy, and Pimlico has given us the opportunity to celebrate Barbaro by naming the race the Barbaro Stakes."
Brown got the first memorabilia from the inaugural race - Dominguez's goggles. Both Dominguez and Matz signed them so they can be auctioned on the Web site to raise money for laminitis research.
"I bet I raise over $1,000 for these," Brown said, "save a couple of horses."