- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

FAIR HILL, Md. — Way back in November, when Barbaro was still slim, still ran exclusively on turf and still way off the national scene, trainer Steve Klesaris became sold.

That day at Laurel Park, Barbaro won a 1 1/16-mile race by eight lengths.

“Barbaro was really green and really gangly, but he just ran away from the field,” Klesaris said. “I knew at that point he was a real horse. His time as a 2-year-old was faster at the same distance than the 3-year-old who won a stakes race. That told me he was one to be reckoned with.”

Back in January, when Barbaro was still a turf horse, still hadn’t faced the top horses in his age group and still was slightly off the Kentucky Derby trail, trainer Ferris Allen, whose horses were stabled next to Barbaro, became sold.

“A couple of years ago, Funny Cide was next to us and he wasn’t looking like that great of a horse early in the year and he wasn’t bred to be that great of a horse so his success was surprising,” Allen said. “Barbaro has always looked the part.”

On the eve of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, where Barbaro will try to become the seventh Derby victor since 1997 to win the Triple Crown’s first two jewels, the entire racing community has joined Klesaris and Allen in the “sold” club.

Barbaro’s 61/2-length win in the Kentucky Derby was so impressive (jockey Edgar Prado didn’t have to use his whip), his breeding so royal (sire is Dynaformer, whose offspring have earned more than $62 million) and his schedule so perfect (trainer Michael Matz has raced him only four times since Jan. 1), the Triple Crown talk already has started.

Barbaro (6-for-6 lifetime) is the even-money favorite in the Preakness and if it sounds like most of the trainers are running for second place, that assumption is correct.

“He’s better than the field,” said Klesaris, who will saddle Diabolical. “The only way he loses if he beats himself.”

And here’s the frightening part for his eight Preakness rivals and the horses being rested for the Belmont Stakes on June 10:

“He still has a lot of maturing to do yet,” Matz said earlier this week at the Fair Hill Training Center, located an hour north of Pimlico and where Barbaro is being stabled until today. “But he’s been terrific. Everything has gone remarkably smooth. Back in January, we set up this plan for him and nothing has gotten mixed up in between.”

Except the Triple Crown hopes of the top 3-year-olds.

Barbaro won his three turf starts by a combined 201/4 lengths, including the 8-length win over Diabolical in the Laurel Futurity. His first start on the dirt was a 3/4-length win in the Grade III Holy Bull on Feb. 4.

In the paddock before the Florida Derby on April 1, Allen said Barbaro — even though he’s an April 29 foal and a young 3-year-old — looked like the superior horse.

“He was so much the best looking horse and I was thinking, ‘This is the Florida Derby. How can this be?’” Allen said. “But then in the race, he ran a way that made him look beatable. He beat the horses but he didn’t put them away because he should have blown that field away. I was skeptical.

“But then he goes to the Kentucky Derby and 19 horses couldn’t get near him. I’m not skeptical anymore.”

Barbaro’s margin of victory in the Derby was the largest in 60 years.

The next step in Matz’s master plan is getting the horse ready on two weeks rest. Barbaro had eight weeks off before the Florida Derby and five weeks off before the Kentucky Derby and kept the colt stabled away from Pimlico until tonight.

“There’s not much for me to do now except try to keep him happy,” Matz said outside the barn he designed himself. “He’s a big, strong horse, so he’s going to hold his own.

“Everybody, from the time he was broken, said this was a nice horse. He was very well balanced and when we trained him here [Fair Hill], he worked well. But sometimes, they work well in the morning and then forget about things in the afternoon. When he ran that well last year, I knew he was pretty special.”

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