Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Michael Matz, Barbaro's trainer, back in Kentucky Derby with Union Rags

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Michael Matz and his assistants are tired of the question — most trainers and riders are by this point in the week before the country's most talked-about horse race — and give mostly a perfunctory answer.

"He's just a really nice horse," exercise rider Peter Brette said of Union Rags, one of the favorites to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. "He's a nice, classy horse."

He's also the most scrutinized in a field that fascinates even the sport's longtime observers. Union Rags passes every look test and has failed to win only two of his five races, by a total of 1½ lengths.

The way he faltered in those races has been the topic of much discussion, though. Seemingly the best horse in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November at Churchill Downs and the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach in late March, he controlled neither race and, worse, appeared to shy from making his move when he needed to.

"We realize that what we see as real excuses other people might see it a different way," Brette said.

Matz and the rest of Union Rags' connections believe the horse was boxed in during the Florida Derby by a small field that conspired to hinder the heavy favorite (he finished third). At the Breeders' Cup, the colt fought traffic, then suddenly veered right when he should have been making his winning run (he finished second).

But Matz feels confident Saturday's race will break differently. Union Rags is the 9-2 second choice to Bodemeister (4-1).

"Every other horse here isn't going to be racing on one horse," Matz said. "We're going to have a chance to run our race."

Matz has acknowledged feeling nostalgic this week. He's back in the barn where Barbaro, whom he also trained, spent the days leading up to a runaway win in the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Injured in the Preakness, Barbaro — undefeated until faltering at Pimlico Race Course — died of laminitis eight months later.

"They're both big, good-looking, fast and athletic," Matz said. "(Union Rags) still has to live up to what Barbaro did."

Part of Barbaro's mystique came from Matz, a three-time Olympian who won a silver medal and carried the U.S. flag in the closing ceremony at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. His teammates chose him for the honor in part because of his heroism after a plane crash in 1989.

Matz and his now wife, D.D. Alexander, had missed their connection to Philadelphia and opted to take United Airlines Flight 232, which plummeted to the ground in Iowa after its engines failed. Matz survived, led three unaccompanied children to safety and went back into the wreckage to save an 11-month-old baby.

Since losing Barbaro, Matz, 61, has received few promising colts. He has had only one other Derby starter, 12th-place Visionaire in 2008. His career has come to be defined by Barbaro. For him to allow Union Rags to be mentioned with Barbaro signifies how strongly he feels.

. Fast facts

138th Kentucky Derby

When/where: 6 p.m. Saturday (post time 6:24); Churchill Downs, Lexington, Ky.

TV/radio: Ch. 8; 1010-AM

Today: Kentucky Oaks, 5 p.m. (post time 5:45), NBC Sports Network

.xxxxxx xxx

Hed goes here

Type goes here

Michael Matz, Barbaro's trainer, back in Kentucky Derby with Union Rags 05/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 10:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Raging Bull' boxer Jake LaMotta dies at 95


    Jake LaMotta, the former champion boxer whose life was immortalized by Robert DeNiro in the 1980 film Raging Bull, died Tuesday at age 95.

    Jake LaMotta and his fiance Denise arrive for the world premier of the critically acclaimed boxing drama "Ring Of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" at the Beekman Theater in New York in 2005. LaMotta, whose life was depicted in the film "Raging Bull," died Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia. He was 95. [Associated Press]
  2. J.R. Sweezy shows what Bucs were missing


    By Greg Auman

    TAMPA —- Sunday's season-opening win against the Bears saw the debut of 13 Bucs, a mix of rookies and free-agent veterans.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (73), seen at center, runs through drills during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, July 31, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  3. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Vikings features a battle of top rookies


    Greg Auman looks at how much the Bucs have changed since the last time they played the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 in our latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception as Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson (39) tackles him Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Late Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella was a fighter until the end

    Swimming Preps

    At swim meets, Cailin Cannella would race side-by-side with her breastroke competitors, their heads bobbing in near unison.

    Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella, here at age 13, still was practicing last year after finding out she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). [Times 2016]
  5. Gators roundtable: Was that really a Hail Mary?


    Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks' last-second heave beat Tennessee Saturday in Gainesville, but was it a Hail Mary, typically a pass made in desperation with little chance of success? The Times' college football coveage team weighs in:


    Feleipe Franks #13 of the Florida Gators celebrates with his teammates after he threw a 63-yard pass at the end of the game to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)