07/02/2009 11:00PM

Matz out West with license to win


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Paperwork is part of being a trainer. They grit their teeth and live with it. So there he was, going on six years since he had run a horse at Hollywood Park, presenting himself at the California Horse Racing Board licensing office Friday morning to pay the fee and fill out a stack of forms. Insurance liability forms. Financial disclosure forms. Personal history forms, including brushes with the law.

Funny, though, there were no spaces to enter certain pieces of information that might have rendered the exercise both moot and ridiculous. Things like plane-crash hero? Check. Olympic medalist? Check. Kentucky Derby winner? Check. Oh well.

So there he was, Michael Matz, submitting to an ordeal that would make the DMV proud in order to saddle the Chiefswood Stable filly Magical Affair on Sunday at Hollywood in the $700,000 American Oaks.

In some ways, it's comforting to know that no exceptions are made when it comes to protecting the public from nefarious frauds who might attempt to pass themselves off as trainers of a $1.55 million filly like Magical Affair. On the other hand . . . it's Michael Matz!! If this guy isn't a household word in horse racing by now, everyone else is in big trouble.

"I think the only horse I've run out here is Kickin Kris," Matz said, referring to his third-place finisher in the 2003 Hollywood Derby. "That was the last time I was licensed here. It's a bit of a nightmare. I don't know why there can't be a master license so you can go from track to track and activate it when you need to. I certainly don't mind paying a fee, but all the time it takes to deal with all these forms - a financial report? I don't know this stuff. Call my brother. He's the accountant."

That's a picture of Matz in the dictionary next to "grace under pressure," and the licensing scene was about as much steam as he blows off, at least in public. Even then Matz tended to see the process as a minor bureaucratic sideshow to the more significant business at hand. At the very least, after what Matz went through with Barbaro - going from gloriously undefeated Derby winner to tragic veterinary tale - he might be the right guy to put forth as poster child for some sort of national licensing reform.

Matz enters into the American Oaks with quiet hopes for Magical Affair. After all, she has yet to win a stakes event, although she did finish a respectable second to Laragh in the Edgewood at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day after getting nailed at the start.

Last time out, in the Sands Point at Belmont Park, she was no better than fourth as the favorite. Matz is content to draw a line lightly through that race, though, since it was contested over yielding ground and she lost enough of it to make her 3 1/2-length deficit look a bit better than it was. Among those she will be facing in the Oaks will be the Sands Point winner, Gozzip Girl, along with local favorites Well Monied and Mrs Kipling, the Europeans Rare Ransom and Apple Charlotte, and the New Zealand filly Puttanesca.

"I hope she makes a better account for herself out here," Matz said. "She's a beautiful filly, though a little temperamental. You just never know what she's going to do sometimes."

Hearing this, Magical Affair's pedigree was consulted and - what a shock - she is a daughter of Giant's Causeway, son of the volcanic Storm Cat. Remember the rule: When in doubt, in terms of Thoroughbred behavior, blame it on Storm Cat.

"We never seem to give him enough credit when they go good, but we sure criticize him when they're bad," Matz said with a laugh. "She was real good about flying out here, and all this week she's been acting well. I hope we're looking at the fact that she's starting to mature."

Magical Affair is owned by the Chiefswood Stable of Robert Krembil and his son, Mark. Based in Ontario, they are a growing concern, with a breeding, buying, and racing operation that has already accounted for the 2004 Queen's Plate winner, Niigon, and the 2005 Canadian champion mare, Ambitious Cat.

Chiefswood may ring a bell as the owners of Born to Be, the filly ridden by the respected veteran Rene Douglas in the Matron Handicap at Arlington Park on May 23. Born to Be was bumped badly, clipped heels, tripped, and rolled over Douglas, who is now faced with spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Born to Be paid an ever steeper price and was euthanized because of her injuries.

Eric Coatrieux, former assistant to Roger Attfield, trains privately for the Krembils. He also plays host to the Matz runners when they ship to Canada to race at Woodbine. When Chiefswood was looking for a presence in the States as well, Matz was a natural. So far, Magical Affair's record is being echoed by another headline horse in the Matz stable, Lael Stable's Nicanor, a full brother to Barbaro. Just like the filly, Nicanor raced a couple times on the main track then found an immediate home with two minor wins on the grass. And, just as Magical Affair has made the jump into serious stakes company, Nicanor is heading for the Virginia Derby next, with other rich grass events to follow, perhaps even the Hollywood Derby this fall.

"There you go," Matz said, warming to the thought. "I might as well get some use out of that license while I can."