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Barbaro works out on Thursday before the Derby
His career started on the turf, winning his maiden race, the Laurel Futurity, and then the Tropical Park Derby on New Year's Day at Calder, the first derby of the year. Trainer Michael Matz decided to try the dirt stakes at Gulfstream, and he showed that he could run on either surface, winning the Holy Bull in the slop and then the Florida Derby over a fast track, battling with Sharp Humor through the lane to prevail late. When Gulfstream management shuffled their stakes schedule, the Florida Derby was placed 5 weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and no horse had won the roses off a 5-week layoff since Needles 50 years ago, who also used the Florida Derby as his last prep. Barbaro not only broke that angle, but also the much-touted Raise a Native "curse", since no horse with Raise a Native on the broodmare sireline has ever won the roses, until now.
Barbaro was bred and is still owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stables, and although Barbaro was bred in Kentucky, the family business is based in Pennsylvania. The Jacksons owned two minor league baseball teams and Roy Jackson was also president of Convest, a company that represented professional baseball players. His parents were also racehorse owners, while Gretchen was involved in hunters and jumpers, coincidentally where trainer Michael Matz got his start. Asked about their first horse, Gretchen said, "Friends that had race horses and, we sort of eyed it and thought it was great. So when we could gather together probably around $7,500 that we bought our first yearling, and we went in with Russell Jones. We owned a mare with him and sold her progeny, and that was the start of it. The first yearling was a lousy horse, but that didn't stop us, obviously."
Roy Jackson said of the Derby win, "You always dream about getting to the Kentucky Derby. Just getting here was something really special for us, and to win it, I haven't come up with the words to express it right now." Gretchen added, "I personally have thought about the Kentucky Derby, since Whirlaway, since I was a little girl, studied his photograph and loved. So winning this is just, when you say, a dream come true, this is truly it."
Before Barbaro, some of their top runners include European juvenile champion Superstar Leo, C'est l'Amour, Love n'Kiss S, and Salty You. On the first Saturday in May, they were part of a unique feat in the sport, as they also bred George Washington, who won the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket earlier that day, the first leg of the English Triple Crown.
Until he walked into the Derby winner's circle at Churchill Downs, trainer Michael Matz was best known for his accomplishments as an Olympic equestrian, competing in three Games and winning a team silver medal in 1996 in Atlanta. Asked to compare that experience to the Derby, he said, "Well, they are all different, but they are all very exciting. So, you know, this has to be one of the highlights, certainly, in my training career. Carrying the flag (in the 1996 closing ceremonies) was a highlight in my jumping career. So they both are very good feelings." He is also remembered as not only a survivor, but also a hero of a horrific plane crash in 1989 in Sioux City, Iowa, rushing back into the flaming aircraft to rescue three children. He said, "I would hope that if something like that happened to my kids, someone would do the same for them." His training operation is based at the training center in Fair Hill, Maryland, and some of his top runners include Kickin Kris, Political Attack, Pegasusbystorm, and Bowman's Band.
Matz said, "I think it's a very good training center. It's close to where I live and close to where the Jacksons live. It's a beautiful facility, and I feel that there's lots of things that you can do with the horse in that center." His wife Dorothy is the daughter of prominent Helen Groves and granddaughter of Robert Kleberg, founder of King Ranch in Texas, which bred and raced 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault.
In recent years, jockey Edgar Prado is known as the specialist in Triple Crown upsets, defeating War Emblem aboard Sarava in the 2002 Belmont and then in 2004, catching Smarty Jones in the final furlong aboard Birdstone. Winner of over 5000 races, the native of Lima, Peru and the son of a horse trainer started his American riding career in Maryland before moving his tack permanently to the New York circuit, riding in Florida in the winter. He was second in earnings among riders in North America last year, and led the nation in victories three years in a row, 1997-99. Until he won this year, his best Derby finish was third aboard Peace Rules in 2003, behind Funny Cide and Empire Maker.
Prado dedicated both his Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby wins to his late mother Zenaida. He said, "My mother passed away on January 19th, and the following big race that I won was the Florida Derby, and I dedicated that to my mother, and this one, too. Not only that, but every race that I've won, I'm thinking of her, because she was an inspiration in my life. She gave me a lot of support and she really made me the person that I am. It was a big help in my career and my life. When I left Peru, it was very hard, and I was very young, but she never discouraged me. She told me, 'Just keep trying and working hard. If you keep working real hard, don't give up, dreams come true and don't ever forget where you come from.' "
Foaling Date: 4-29-2003
Pedigree: Dynaformer - La Ville Rouge by Carson City
Dosage Profile: 10-4-21-2-1
Dosage Index/CD: 1.81 0.53
2005 Record: 2 starts 2-0-0 $99,000
Best Beyer Figure before the Derby: 103
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