05/11/2007 11:00PM

One year later, Matz has moved on

Email
Matt Wooley/Horsephotos
"You just can't sit around and mope," said Michael Matz.

Keep moving, that's what Michael Matz says works for him. He just has to keep moving.

"You just can't sit around and mope," he said. "If I'm by myself, not working, I think about things a lot. But you just have to go on."

It has been nearly one year since Barbaro suffered catastrophic injuries in the Preakness Stakes. Matz had to go to work the next day, and the next. It is the life of a trainer. Move on. Don't dwell. That temperament has served him well. A former equestrian, he learned at an early age the lesson of getting back on the horse. And 18 years ago, Matz walked away from a plane crash that killed more than 100 people. The next day, he was on a plane home.

"Sooner or later, I had to get on another plane," he said this week from his barn at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. "I hope I never have another horse that something like that happens to. But I hold nothing against the racetrack. It's something that happened. I'll always have memories of it. But you can't dwell on it for the rest of your life. You've got to go on and do your job. I think it's just something you have to do. If I can't do this - try to go on and find another nice horse - I should quit."

Matz showed that resilience last fall, when he won the Breeders' Cup Distaff with Round Pond. But having a good 3-year-old one year after Barbaro makes the Round Pond story a mere footnote compared to what's ahead over the next week.

With the possible exception of Street Sense, who last week followed Barbaro as a Kentucky Derby winner, no one will receive more attention this coming week than Matz. The anniversary of that dark Preakness is reason enough. Yet Matz is also considering running his colt Chelokee next Saturday in the Preakness, or, irony of ironies, on the undercard at Pimlico in the newly renamed Barbaro Stakes. The decision will be made following a scheduled workout Sunday at Fair Hill, where Chelokee has trained since stopping at Keeneland after spending the winter in Florida.

Chelokee finished a troubled third in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, an effort that made him a legitimate Derby contender. However, he lacked sufficient graded stakes earnings, and then a series of incidents - omens, perhaps? - convinced Matz to skip the Derby.

"I really think it happened for the best," Matz said. "He bruised a foot coming out of the Florida Derby, then 10 days later popped an abscess. He had a rein break one morning at Keeneland and ran around the track. I didn't want to go into the race like that, with that many questions. Last year, everything went perfect. He worked well before he left Keeneland, and he worked real good here on Monday. I think the foot problems are behind him."

The decision Matz is now weighing is whether he thinks Chelokee is up to facing the first three finishers from the Derby - Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin - or whether a lesser race might be a better intermediate step. Matz said the Preakness, Barbaro, Peter Pan at Belmont on May 20, and Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 2 are all on the table.

"If he works good, I'll speak to the Centennial people," Matz said, referring to the Boston-based partnership, headed by Don Little, that owns Chelokee. "We're going to let Chelokee tell us what to do. I think the first three in the Derby are real nice horses. I'm not saying Chelokee isn't that nice, but he hasn't proven it yet. I know Street Sense loves Churchill Downs. This might be a new ballgame. Hard Spun is tough, and Curlin might do better with a better trip. Our advantage would be that those three are all coming back in two weeks."

Matz, 56, brought years of horsemanship to bear with Barbaro last year. Barbaro became the first horse in 50 years to win the Derby off a layoff of five weeks or more, and he had just one race in the preceding 13 weeks. Matz said he was applying a lesson he learned decades earlier as a show-horse rider, when he had used a horse too hard in the preliminaries and the horse was past his prime for the finals.

As an elite show-horse rider, Matz competed in the Olympics Games and carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996. It was as a rider, he says, that he first was taught to literally get back on the horse after a setback.

"I remember the first time I fell, I did not want to get back on, but my instructor made me," Matz said. "And that's been my mentality all along."

In 1989, Matz was on a United Airlines passenger jet that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa. A gentleman sitting next to him kept in touch with Matz for years.

"We had to get some kids off the plane, but he kind of went into shock," Matz said. "He kept apologizing later. He took my phone number, and he would call once in a while. He said it made him feel better that he could call me. A few years ago, he asked if I was going to go to the reunion of the crash survivors. I told him I was sorry, but I had to go on with my life. And you know what? I never heard from him again. I don't know if I offended him. I know everybody's different. But that's my mentality."

Following the crash, Matz flew home on a private jet with his current wife, D.D. "Like anything else, you just have to do it," he said. Not long after that, though, Matz flew commercial on a business trip. He said he fell asleep while reading the newspaper, and was jarred awake, a bit startled, when the plane landed.

The passenger next to him said, "It's all right. We just landed. You okay?"

"I said, 'It's a long story. You don't want to hear it,'" Matz said.

In other Preakness developments Friday:

* At Churchill Downs, Street Sense walked the shed row of trainer Carl Nafzger's barn, while Curlin galloped one mile for trainer Steve Asmussen. Both are scheduled to be flown to Maryland on Wednesday.

* Chelokee and Xchanger, who is trained by Mark Shuman, both galloped at Fair Hill training center in Maryland.

* Hard Spun galloped and jogged at Delaware Park.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Byron King

Keep moving, that's what Michael Matz says works for him. He just has to keep moving.

"You just can't sit around and mope," he said. "If I'm by myself, not working, I think about things a lot. But you just have to go on."

It has been nearly one year since Barbaro suffered catastrophic injuries in the Preakness Stakes. Matz had to go to work the next day, and the next. It is the life of a trainer. Move on. Don't dwell. That temperament has served him well. A former equestrian, he learned at an early age the lesson of getting back on the horse. And 18 years ago, Matz walked away from a plane crash that killed more than 100 people. The next day, he was on a plane home.

"Sooner or later, I had to get on another plane," he said this week from his barn at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. "I hope I never have another horse that something like that happens to. But I hold nothing against the racetrack. It's something that happened. I'll always have memories of it. But you can't dwell on it for the rest of your life. You've got to go on and do your job. I think it's just something you have to do. If I can't do this - try to go on and find another nice horse - I should quit."

Matz showed that resilience last fall, when he won the Breeders' Cup Distaff with Round Pond. But having a good 3-year-old one year after Barbaro makes the Round Pond story a mere footnote compared to what's ahead over the next week.

With the possible exception of Street Sense, who last week followed Barbaro as a Kentucky Derby winner, no one will receive more attention this coming week than Matz. The anniversary of that dark Preakness is reason enough. Yet Matz is also considering running his colt Chelokee next Saturday in the Preakness, or, irony of ironies, on the undercard at Pimlico in the newly renamed Barbaro Stakes. The decision will be made following a scheduled workout Sunday at Fair Hill, where Chelokee has trained since stopping at Keeneland after spending the winter in Florida.

Chelokee finished a troubled third in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, an effort that made him a legitimate Derby contender. However, he lacked sufficient graded stakes earnings, and then a series of incidents - omens, perhaps? - convinced Matz to skip the Derby.

"I really think it happened for the best," Matz said. "He bruised a foot coming out of the Florida Derby, then 10 days later popped an abscess. He had a rein break one morning at Keeneland and ran around the track. I didn't want to go into the race like that, with that many questions. Last year, everything went perfect. He worked well before he left Keeneland, and he worked real good here on Monday. I think the foot problems are behind him."

The decision Matz is now weighing is whether he thinks Chelokee is up to facing the first three finishers from the Derby - Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin - or whether a lesser race might be a better intermediate step. Matz said the Preakness, Barbaro, Peter Pan at Belmont on May 20, and Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 2 are all on the table.

"If he works good, I'll speak to the Centennial people," Matz said, referring to the Boston-based partnership, headed by Don Little, that owns Chelokee. "We're going to let Chelokee tell us what to do. I think the first three in the Derby are real nice horses. I'm not saying Chelokee isn't that nice, but he hasn't proven it yet. I know Street Sense loves Churchill Downs. This might be a new ballgame. Hard Spun is tough, and Curlin might do better with a better trip. Our advantage would be that those three are all coming back in two weeks."

Matz, 56, brought years of horsemanship to bear with Barbaro last year. Barbaro became the first horse in 50 years to win the Derby off a layoff of five weeks or more, and he had just one race in the preceding 13 weeks. Matz said he was applying a lesson he learned decades earlier as a show-horse rider, when he had used a horse too hard in the preliminaries and the horse was past his prime for the finals.

As an elite show-horse rider, Matz competed in the Olympics Games and carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996. It was as a rider, he says, that he first was taught to literally get back on the horse after a setback.

"I remember the first time I fell, I did not want to get back on, but my instructor made me," Matz said. "And that's been my mentality all along."

In 1989, Matz was on a United Airlines passenger jet that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa. A gentleman sitting next to him kept in touch with Matz for years.

"We had to get some kids off the plane, but he kind of went into shock," Matz said. "He kept apologizing later. He took my phone number, and he would call once in a while. He said it made him feel better that he could call me. A few years ago, he asked if I was going to go to the reunion of the crash survivors. I told him I was sorry, but I had to go on with my life. And you know what? I never heard from him again. I don't know if I offended him. I know everybody's different. But that's my mentality."

Following the crash, Matz flew home on a private jet with his current wife, D.D. "Like anything else, you just have to do it," he said. Not long after that, though, Matz flew commercial on a business trip. He said he fell asleep while reading the newspaper, and was jarred awake, a bit startled, when the plane landed.

The passenger next to him said, "It's all right. We just landed. You okay?"

"I said, 'It's a long story. You don't want to hear it,'" Matz said.

In other Preakness developments Friday:

* At Churchill Downs, Street Sense walked the shed row of trainer Carl Nafzger's barn, while Curlin galloped one mile for trainer Steve Asmussen. Both are scheduled to be flown to Maryland on Wednesday.

* Chelokee and Xchanger, who is trained by Mark Shuman, both galloped at Fair Hill training center in Maryland.

* Hard Spun galloped and jogged at Delaware Park.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Byron King