05/26/2006 11:00PM

Matz: 'I'm just sad for racing'

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Saturday marked one week since Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro suffered catastrophic injuries in the Preakness Stakes, a stunning development that his trainer, Michael Matz, is still trying to shake off.

"I thought for sure he could win the Triple Crown," Matz said Saturday from his barn at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. "It's hard to accept he's not going to do it. I think if any horse could do it, he could have. I thought he could get beat one day, but I couldn't imagine [what happened].

"I'm just sad he didn't get to show the public what a great horse he was. I'm just sad for racing that he couldn't be the horse they were looking for."

Barbaro had won all six of his starts prior to the Preakness.

"I look at it this way - I might never have a horse of that caliber, but at least I did for a little while, which is a lot more than most people can say," Matz said.

Barbaro continues to recuperate at the George D. Widener Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., where surgery was performed last Sunday by Dr. Dean Richardson. Barbaro had fractures in three places in his right hind ankle. Richardson fused the joint with a plate and 27 screws.

Six days following surgery, Matz said that Barbaro, according to Richardson, is "doing as well as can be expected."

Matz said he was going to stop by the hospital and see Barbaro on Saturday night on his way home from Delaware Park, where Matz had two horses racing Saturday afternoon.

Matz said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for Barbaro. He said Roy and Gretchen Jackson, whose Lael Stable bred and own Barbaro, came by Fair Hill on Saturday morning, their station wagon filled with letters and printouts of e-mails.

"It's amazing how much people got involved with the horse," Matz said. "People have been so

supportive. It's great to see people with so much affection and gratitude for a horse they barely know."

Matz said that an exercise rider who works for another trainer at Fair Hill rode past Matz on the track the other morning and offered encouragement.

"I think he's a born-again Christian," Matz said. "He was shook up. He said, 'The Lord doesn't give you anything you can't handle.' Then he rode away a couple of strides, stopped, looked back and said, 'He must think you're an awfully tough guy.' "

Matz chuckled, probably for the first time in a week.