Barbaro: A Rolls Royce horse
ELKTON, Md. – Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was on his way to the track Tuesday morning, with Peter Brette aboard and trainer Michael Matz alongside on his pony, Messaging.A dozen or so cameras started clicking and a few local fans showed up too, some even cheering – “Hey Barbaro, yes!”At the Fair Hill Training Center, buried in the hills of this rural community, this is pretty exciting stuff. A sprawling facility with more than 2,000 acres of riding trails, training tracks and barns, Fair Hill is Barbaro’s peaceful home away from the hustle and bustle of the race track.After winning the Derby by 6 1/2 lengths, Barbaro and Co. retreated to Fair Hill to prepare for Saturday’s $1 million Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.Barbaro galloped 1 1/2 miles after jogging three-quarters of a mile over the dirt track at Fair Hill, an exercise Matz called “nothing special.”Barbaro, though, appears to be something very special – a talented 3-year-old who excels on both the turf and the dirt.
Brette, perhaps, knows better than anyone how good Barbaro really is – the 40-year-old Englishman is Matz’s assistant as well as the colt’s exercise rider.Asked what it feels like to ride Barbaro, Brette didn’t hesitate:”Like a Rolls Royce,” he said. “He just floats. Just floats along. He does everything you want to do. He can quicken. He can slow down. He’s just an ideal horse.”Brette may not be as well-known as Barbaro or Matz or jockey Edgar Prado, but he’s been around some good horses. He spent 10 years as a jockey in Dubai, and four years as a trainer before taking a job at The Vinery working with young horses.Last year, though, he met Matz in Florida and the two hit it off well enough for Brette to accept a job offer. At about the same time, Barbaro’s owners, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, were sending their budding star to Matz.Brette has exercised the colt from the start. When he first saw him a year ago, “I thought he was a 3-year-old,” he said. “He was a lovely, big horse with great balance. I liked him pretty much straightaway.”Matz was so enamored with Brette, the trainer asked him if he’d be interested in becoming Barbaro’s jockey.
Brette declined, and Jose Caraballo was the lucky rider aboard for an 8 1/2-length victory at Delaware Park on Oct. 4, and an eight-length romp in the Laurel Futurity on Nov. 19. Both races were on the turf.What sets Barbaro apart, Brette said, is his picture-perfect balance when he runs.”You pick up on right away how they hit the ground perfect,” Brette said. “Barbaro is always balanced for whatever you ask him to do, and can do it so effortlessly. Things come naturally and easy. That’s a great commodity.”Matz credits Brette for much of Barbaro’s success.”He’s a great asset,” Matz said. “He’d be a big help whoever he was with. We’re lucky enough to have him. He’s proven to be a great horseman.”When Barbaro began his 3-year-old campaign in Florida, Prado was the new jockey at the request of the Jacksons. Barbaro won the Tropical Park Derby by 3 3/4 lengths on Jan. 1, then Matz decided it was time for the dirt. Brette wasn’t so sure, even though Barbaro trained well on the surface.”As good as he was on turf I just didn’t think he could be as good on dirt,” Brette said.
But Matz said they had to try: A 3-year-old in America has to run on dirt in case he’s good enough for the Triple Crown races.”He might be better on grass, but it would have been silly to wait until the end of his 3-year-old year to find out that he could still run on the dirt,” Matz said. “It’s not fair to the horse, not fair to the owners, and if he didn’t take to the dirt, then we have a beautiful career on the turf.”Barbaro won the Holy Bull Stakes over a sloppy dirt track Feb. 4, then took the Florida Derby on a fast dirt track April 1 to earn a Derby shot.Brette believed Barbaro’s only ticket to Louisville was a victory in the Florida Derby. A loss, and it might have been Plan B, returning to the turf. But Barbaro overcame an eight-week layoff, a poor outside post and won by a half-length over Sharp Humor.”And he came out better than he went in,” Brette said.Same story after the Derby, Brette said, and now it’s time to see what the Preakness brings.”He’s just going to get stronger and stronger,” Brette said. “He’s right where we want to be.”
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