- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

BALTIMORE — Trainer Michael Matz has two 3-year-olds in his life.

Arthur is the youngest of Michael and Dorothy Matz’s six children and won’t attend the 131st Preakness Stakes today at Pimlico Race Course.

“He’s more interested in playing with his trucks,” Michael Matz said.

Barbaro is the star colt of Matz’s barn, and he will be at Pimlico trying to become the seventh horse since 1997 to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He is the overwhelming favorite (even money on the morning line) thanks to his 61/2-length win in the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

“I’d rather it be this way than him being 30 to 1 and have me saying, ‘C’mon, boy, please wake up,’” Matz said of the favorite status. “He’s a good horse, and you need to be a good horse to win, whether it’s a claiming race or the Derby. I’m sure he’ll do the best he can possibly do.”

A field of nine will go to post at 6:15 p.m. for the 1 3/16-mile race. Barbaro’s main competition figures to be Brother Derek (3-1), who will start to Barbaro’s left, and Sweetnorthernsaint (4-1), who will start to Barbaro’s right.

While trainers Dan Hendricks and Michael Trombetta are confident their colts can improve on their Derby performances — dead heat for fourth and up-the-track seventh, respectively — it’s a given that if Barbaro does the best he can possibly do, everybody is running for second money.

“Two weeks rest isn’t what a trainer wants for his horse, and it isn’t what a horse wants,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Like Now. “But he’s probably superior enough to overcome a lot of adversity, and he’s probably good enough to get by all of us.”

Said Diabolical trainer Steve Klesaris: “He just toyed with the Derby field. He’s better than this field.”

Like Now and Diabolical are two of six newcomers to the Triple Crown quest. The best of the bunch are the lightly raced Bernardini (2-for-3 lifetime) and Like Now, who is expected to take the early lead.

Barbaro should be right behind him. In each of his six races (all wins), he has been first or second at the race’s halfway point. And once jockey Edgar Prado asks for acceleration, Barbaro should be ready to go, given the fact he won the Derby with seeming ease.

If he does fly down the lane, it would lend even more credence to Matz’s winter/spring plan of spacing Barbaro’s races out. He had eight weeks before the Florida Derby and five weeks off before the Kentucky Derby. Today is the real litmus test.

“He probably isn’t as fresh as he was before the Derby, but Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint are in the same boat,” Matz said. “But he’s a big, strong horse, and I’m sure he’s going to hold his own.”

A Barbaro win would play well for the racing world. The sport hasn’t had a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, the last of three Triple Crown winners in a six-year period.

Since then, Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones have won the first two legs but fallen short in the Belmont Stakes.

A victory by Sweetnorthernsaint would be popular in Baltimore. The trainer and co-owners reside in Maryland.

“I think there’s a lot of people in Baltimore rooting for this horse,” Trombetta said.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who throttled back down the lane in the Derby with an eye toward today, won the Preakness in 1998 with Real Quiet.

“I expect a huge effort,” Desormeaux said. “I think he can win. Barbaro may be the best horse that ever looked through a bridle, but I would at least like to challenge him with an unaltered trip.”

Hendricks felt compelled to give Brother Derek another shot at Barbaro following a scary experience in the Derby that saw his run compromised by traffic problems. The best the West Coast had to offer this spring, Brother Derek (6-for-9 lifetime) had won four consecutive races before the Derby.

“I think it would be great to have a Triple Crown winner,” Hendricks said. “That’s what makes it so great, that it’s taken nearly 30 years to have another one. But I’m in here to win the race, and I want to win the Preakness more than anyone.

“I’m hoping I’m good enough to beat him,” he added. “Barbaro has done nothing wrong. He’s proven himself out to be the top 3-year-old right now. I just hope I can step up and beat him now. If I can, I’m right on top again. That’s all I can hope.”

If the three Derby horses don’t run well, Bernardini and Like Now could get a bigger part of the $1 million purse. Long shots to finish on the board are Hemingway’s Key (winless this year), Greeley’s Legacy (beaten 26 lengths in the Wood Memorial), Diabolical (no Grade I or II races) and Platinum Couple (also winless as a 3-year old).

“We can’t worry about beating Barbaro — he’s got to beat himself because he’s the best horse,” McLaughlin said. “The timing between the two races has to beat him. We’re going to run our race and hope that works.”

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