05/05/2006 11:00PM

Barbaro says bye-bye to the rest

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Barbaro, with Edgar Prado riding, captures the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, winning by 6 1/2 lengths to run his record to a perfect 6 for 6.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Fresh, trainer Michael Matz believed all along, was best. Barbaro proved it on Saturday at Churchill Downs, recording a runaway victory over 19 rivals in the 132nd to become the first horse to win the Derby off a five-week layoff since Needles in 1956.

Barbaro ($14.20), who received a perfect trip under jockey Edgar Prado, surged to the lead nearing the top of the stretch, opened up a commanding lead at midstretch, and breezed home 6 1/2 lengths best over 30-1 shot Bluegrass Cat. Steppenwolfer, a 16-1 shot, rallied for third, two lengths behind Bluegrass Cat.

Jazil and Brother Derek finished in a dead heat for fourth, and were followed, in order, by Showing Up, Sweetnorthernsaint, Deputy Glitters, Point Determined, Seaside Retreat, Storm Treasure, Lawyer Ron, Cause to Believe, Flashy Bull, Private Vow, Sinister Minister, Bob and John, A. P. Warrior, Sharp Humor, and Keyed Entry, the early pacesetter.

Barbaro was the second choice. He was favored through the betting on Saturday until only minutes before post time, when a huge wager on Sweetnorthernsaint made him the 5-1 favorite.

The Oaks-Derby double, coupling Lemons Forever, the upset winner of Friday's Kentucky Oaks, with Barbaro, returned $890.20.

Barbaro completed 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:01.36. He earned $1,453,200 from a gross purse of $2,213,200 for owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who bred Barbaro, a son of Dynaformer. The Jacksons also bred George Washington, who won the English 2000 Guineas earlier Saturday at Newmarket.

Barbaro is unbeaten in six starts, joining the likes of Majestic Prince, Seattle Slew, and Smarty Jones as unbeaten winners of the Derby. He now moves on to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the May 20 Preakness Stakes, seeking to become the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

A crowd of 157,536, the second-largest in Derby history to the 163,628 that came to the 100th Derby in 1974, attended on a gorgeous, spring day at Churchill Downs.

Keyed Entry rolled out of the gate and set swift fractions of 22.63 seconds for the opening quarter, 46.07 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:10.88 for the first six furlongs. By the far turn, though, he was done, as was Sinister Minister, who had been chasing Keyed Entry through the early going.

Barbaro stumbled at the start, but quickly recovered and ended up tucked in just behind the early leaders as the field moved into the first turn. Sweetnorthernsaint and Private Vow slammed into one another at the start, costing both valuable position early in the race.

Sweetnorthernsaint made a valiant effort to move up down the backstretch, rolling past horses on the inside, but the start and that trip cost him dearly.

Brother Derek, who started from post 18, was caught outside a pack of horses all seeking the same stalking position and was fanned wide around the first turn into the backstretch and again on the far turn. Despite that trip, he closed resolutely in the middle of the track, good enough to earn a fourth-place dead heat with Jazil.

Barbaro has proven to be a remarkably gifted and versatile animal. He won his first three starts on turf, then switched to dirt, and won on both sloppy and fast tracks.

The victory by Barbaro was the latest chapter in the remarkable life of Matz. He was a world-class horseman, good enough to earn medals in two Olympic games. He carried the United States flag in the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics. And in 1989, he saved several people after surviving a horrible commercial plane crash.

For the Derby, Matz drew upon his experience with show-jumping horses, with whom he was associated before turning to racehorse training a decade ago. Matz, 55, said he had learned 30 years ago, in his first Olympics, that horses often give their peak performances in the preps, and not in the finals.

To guard against that with Barbaro, he outlined an unorthodox schedule that worked to perfection. Barbaro won the Florida Derby off an eight-week layoff, then came into the Derby off a five-week rest, giving him one race in 13 weeks. He had trained sensationally all week at Churchill Downs.

"I just couldn't be more pleased," Matz said. "I told Edgar in the paddock, 'Let's win our first Kentucky Derby.' "

Barbaro was the first Derby starter for Matz. He becomes the fourth straight trainer to win the Derby in his first start, following Barclay Tagg, John Servis, and John Shirreffs.

Prado, 39, had lost his previous five starts in the Derby. His best finish had been in 2003 with Peace Rules, who was third. He might be best known for stopping Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid with an upset victory aboard Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont Stakes.

"All along I had great confidence," Prado said of Barbaro. "When I turned him loose, he took off running. Hopefully we can get a Triple Crown."