11/06/2006 1:00AM

Round Pond makes good for Matz


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Michael Matz's world came full circle Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.

Five months ago, in the Preakness, Matz watched his Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro pull up with a life-threatening injury as the favorite in the Preakness while Bernardini galloped to a rousing 5 1/4-length victory. Saturday, in the $2.26 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, the Matz-trained Round Pond galloped to a 4 1/4-length victory while the two favorites in the race suffered injuries.

In the case of Pine Island, the leading 3-year-old filly in the country and the 5-2 second choice, she suffered a dislocation of the fetlock joint in her left front ankle and had to be euthanized after being vanned off the track. In the case of Fleet Indian, the leading older mare in the country and the slight 5-2 Distaff favorite, she tore both branches of the suspensory ligament in her left foreleg, a non-life-threatening injury but one that will end her racing career.

Fleet Indian is expected to survive, much like Barbaro, who suffered a hind-leg fracture in the Preakness and who continues a successful fight for his life at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Kennett Square, Pa.

"Nobody wants to see a good horse get hurt or have a tragic loss like we did today," Matz said. "It's very heartbreaking to see that happen. It happens to us all. It was an unfortunate situation. I feel for Shug [McGaughey] and the Phippses and everybody associated with [Pine Island]. I know what they're going through."

Amid the congratulatory phone calls Matz received from Saturday evening to Sunday morning, he made a call to McGaughey. The two spoke on Sunday. Pine Island was stabled three stalls down from Round Pond.

"I felt so bad for him," Matz said. "You feel for the guy."

"He's a good guy," McGaughey said of Matz.

The eventful Distaff also included the disqualification of runner-up Asi Siempre for interference in the stretch. Asi Siempre, who came over on fourth-place finisher Balletto, was placed fourth by the stewards. Happy Ticket, who finished third, was moved to second while fourth-place finisher Balletto was moved up to third.

Round Pond, a daughter of 1998 BC Classic winner Awesome Again, overcame chronic foot problems to sparkle in her division's premier event. After owner Rick Porter transferred Round Pond to Matz from John Servis in the spring, Matz had to work diligently to get Round Pond's tender feet right.

Matz used glue-on shoes when he ran her in the Molly Pitcher on Aug. 27, but went back to training her in regular shoes after that. That caused problems for Round Pond, who missed some training time leading up to the Beldame where she finished third, seven lengths behind Fleet Indian.

Round Pond wore glue-on shoes in that race and she remained in glue-ons thereafter, never missing a day of training. Because Round Pond has thin soles, the nails from a regular shoe can sometimes pinch her.

Though Matz had Round Pond going better than she ever before had for him, there was just one question.

"The thing I didn't know is how good is she?" Matz said.

On Saturday, Round Pond was very good. Under Edgar Prado, Round Pond used her advantageous rail post position to perfection, saving ground behind a pace battle that included Healthy Addiction, Sharp Lisa, and Pool Land.

Prado moved Round Pond one path off the rail on the turn, then after checking slightly approaching the top of the stretch, he guided Round Pond back to the rail where she scooted through an opening en route to her victory. Round Pond covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.50 and returned $29.80 to win.

"I got a beautiful trip," Prado said. "I was able to sit in behind the speed. She was a little anxious, especially on the turn, but settled in nicely and ran very hard to win."

Round Pond was scheduled to arrive at Matz's Fair Hill Farm in Maryland on Monday. Porter, who races the under name Fox Hill Farm, said on his website that Round Pond would remain in training and spend the winter at the Palm Meadows training center .

"I plan on running her as a 5-year-old as long as she is 100 percent sound and can compete at the highest level," Porter wrote.

Stewart Madison, the owner of Happy Ticket, was ecstatic with his filly's second-place finish, one that made her the all-time leading earner among Louisiana-breds. Madison said he is leaning toward retiring Happy Ticket, but has not made a final decision.

"There's not a lot of upside to continue to race," said Madison, who also said Happy Ticket would be shipped to trainer Andrew Leggio Jr.'s Fair Grounds barn while he makes a decision. "On the other hand, I love horse racing and to watch my horses run. That's worth something."