Barbaro, Matz bring back class

May 16, 2006 5:02 AM

Ah, kids today.

Recently at one of LA’s most popular malls, two girls—couldn’t have been more than 20-something—were waiting in line at a pretzel kiosk, one dropping F-bombs with the frequency of suicide attacks by Middle East martyrs, and with the same sense of remorse.

That’s society today, sports fans. Multi-millionaire athletes with body parts pierced in places so repugnant it hurts to look at them, ex-jock analysts who can’t distinguish a pronoun from profanity and school kids who don’t know the difference between Condoleezza Rice and pork fried rice.

Culture today consists of such as the U.S. Paintball Championships on ESPN, which represents the ultimate in desperation programming, and whose interviewers conduct melodramatic post-event probes like the seventh game of the World Series was just won on a walk-off home run.

Which brings us to Michael Matz, the Mr. Rogers of trainers.

Bob Baffert once wore the trophy on his head after a Kentucky Derby victory. That won’t happen if Barbaro, trained by former Olympic medalist and accomplished equestrian Matz, wins Saturday’s Preakness Stakes or the Belmont Stakes on 10. Victories in the two classics would make Barbaro the 12th Triple Crown winner.

Matz is too secure with his sheltered ego and has too much class for those shenanigans.

Of course, Barbaro, who won the Run for the Roses by 6½ lengths on May 6, must first accomplish what no horse has since Affirmed in 1978.

With no more than 10 expected to face him in the mile and three-sixteenths Preakness at Pimlico, Barbaro should be odds-on to win, especially after leaving 19 rivals in his wake in the Derby.

"If he runs like he ran in the Derby, he should win it," said Jeff Mullins, one of Southern California’s leading trainers who has saddled four horses in the Run for the Roses, Buzzards Bay achieving the best finish with a fifth last year. "That horse was awesome. I hadn’t even followed Barbaro before the Derby. I was hoping Brother Derek would win it. If Barbaro runs like that again, they’re all running for second."

Gary Mandella, who has never run a horse in the Derby but accompanied his Hall of Fame father, Richard, to the Big Dance at Churchill Downs on more than one occasion, was cautiously complimentary.

"He was very impressive," the 34-year-old trainer said. "He was the only horse that finished after running a half in just over :46. Not only did he stay around, but he re-broke at the quarter pole. He has no distance limitations and no surface limitations. The only question is, can he win three races in five weeks? But he’s good enough and versatile enough."

Mandella dismissed opinions that Real Quiet in 1998 and Smarty Jones in 2004 looked any price to win the Triple Crown before their stunning defeats in the Belmont.

"Granted Real Quiet beat Victory Gallop twice before the Belmont, but Victory Gallop was a solid horse going into the Derby and through the Triple Crown," Mandella said. "Smarty Jones had more talent than Real Quiet, who was fairly close to Victory Gallop.

"I think there’s less of a talent gap between Bardaro and Brother Derek than there was between Smarty Jones and any horse he ran against in the Belmont. But he was injured in the race. Smarty Jones reminded me of Spectacular Bid going into his Belmont (in1979). It looked like they both towered over their opponents and could only get beat if they weren’t right. The horses that were trying to beat Smarty Jones were weaker than the ones who will try to beat Barbaro in the Preakness and the Belmont. Barbaro winning the Triple Crown is a long way from a foregone conclusion, but at the same time, he’s good enough to pull it off."

A Triple Crown victory would create an aura of national interest.

"It would be great," said trainer Paddy Gallagher, a 49-year-old native of Ireland, where far more mile and a half races are run than in North America. "He looks like the ideal horse to do it. His races were spaced out well before the Derby so maybe that will help. What makes winning the Triple Crown difficult are the new shooters in each race."

Doug O’Neill, who conditions injured 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy, says Barbaro has everything in his favor.

"I think he’ll win it," the 37-year-old trainer said. "He sure covers a lot of ground, he’s royally bred and Matz has done a tremendous job preparing him. The horse has been lightly raced, so he’s got the energy and the wherewithal to go after a Triple Crown. I don’t think three races in five weeks will affect him. He’s a real robust horse. They called Real Quiet ”˜The Fish’ because he was so thin, and Smarty Jones wasn’t real big, either. Barbaro has a tad more substance than those two and probably came into the Derby a fresher horse than those two.

"It would be terrific to get a Triple Crown winner and expose this great game to people who have no idea what’s going on."

And that, as noted earlier, covers a lot of territory.

THE HOMESTRETCH

”¡ My Preakness picks: Barbaro, Brother Derek, Sweetnorthernsaint and Bernardini.

”¡ Alex Solis, despite losing his 15th Derby, this time on Brother Derek, says it’s always a novel race: "You never get used to the Derby," he said. "It’s a very unique experience. You know what’s going to happen, but even if you’re on a 50-1 shot, you still have the same sensation as riding a favorite. You get all excited and butterflies and goose bumps when they start singing ”˜My Old Kentucky Home.’ There’s so much electricity from the crowd that every year it’s the same old great experience."

”¡ Silky Sullivan reincarnate Choctaw Nation is back with Jeff Mullins after a tour in Dubai and is pointing to a campaign at Del Mar, where he upset Pleasantly Perfect in the San Diego Handicap two years ago. "It would be great," said trainer Paddy Gallagher, a 49-year-old native of Ireland, where far more mile and a half races are run than in North America. "He looks like the ideal horse to do it. His races were spaced out well before the Derby so maybe that will help. What makes winning the Triple Crown difficult are the new shooters in each race."

Doug O’Neill, who conditions injured 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy, says Barbaro has everything in his favor.

"I think he’ll win it," the 37-year-old trainer said. "He sure covers a lot of ground, he’s royally bred and Matz has done a tremendous job preparing him. The horse has been lightly raced, so he’s got the energy and the wherewithal to go after a Triple Crown. I don’t think three races in five weeks will affect him. He’s a real robust horse. They called Real Quiet ”˜The Fish’ because he was so thin, and Smarty Jones wasn’t real big, either. Barbaro has a tad more substance than those two and probably came into the Derby a fresher horse than those two.

"It would be terrific to get a Triple Crown winner and expose this great game to people who have no idea what’s going on."

And that, as noted earlier, covers a lot of territory.

THE HOMESTRETCH:

”¡ My Preakness picks: Barbaro, Brother Derek, Sweetnorthernsaint and Bernardini.

”¡ Alex Solis, despite losing his 15th Derby, this time on Brother Derek, says it’s always a novel race: "You never get used to the Derby," he said. "It’s a very unique experience. You know what’s going to happen, but even if you’re on a 50-1 shot, you still have the same sensation as riding a favorite. You get all excited and butterflies and goose bumps when they start singing ”˜My Old Kentucky Home.’ There’s so much electricity from the crowd that every year it’s the same old great experience."

”¡ Silky Sullivan reincarnate Choctaw Nation is back with Jeff Mullins after a tour in Dubai and is pointing to a campaign at Del Mar, where he upset Pleasantly Perfect in the San Diego Handicap two years ago.