Michael Matz — who trained the famed Barbaro six years ago — may have another Kentucky Derby winner on his hands.
The horse named “Union Rags” is currently the Derby front-runner. He lost the Breeders’ Cup, in his trainer’s words, by “maybe two feet.” And last weekend, he won the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, with an impressive four-length victory.
You may find it comforting to know that we ordinary riders and trainers have something in common with a superstar trainer of superstar horses. It turns out that we aren’t the only ones busy questioning ourselves and what we do. Matz, an extraordinary rider and trainer by any measure, does it too.
“You never know after a four-month rest. Do you have the horse fit enough? Did you do this? Did you do that?,” he said. “You ask yourself 51 questions.”
And here’s a man who understands horses as well as anyone, having piloted Barbaro towards the Triple Crown, and Jet Run to the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. That 16.3h bay gelding was a Thoroughbred as well, bred to run, but he found his competitive home in the show ring, where he won the New York Grand Prix at the age of six. He was sold to Mexico and won the Individual Gold and Team Silver in the 1975 Pan American Games.
When he was brought back to the States for Michael Matz to ride, that’s when Jet Run hit his stride. He and Matz started winning and didn’t stop, securing both Team and Individual Gold in the 1979 Pan Am Games, winning the FEI Jumping World Cup Final in England, and taking the AGA (American Grand Prix Association) Horse of the Year title in 1981.
Here’s how it’s done:
The man that brought Jet Run to fame was himself inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame some years later but was unable to attend the ceremony because he was busy training Barbaro in Florida.
It’s revealing that when speaking about his horses, Matz repeatedly refers to their dispositions. That’s something that Alex Brown shared with me about Barbaro, and the reason that Alex thinks Barbaro was able to take in stride the far-end-of-the-bell-curve events that would have pushed other horses over the edge.
Michael Matz, the legendary trainer who is still asking himself 51 questions, has won eight Pan American Games medals, five of them Gold. He has ridden in three World Championships, winning Team Gold, Team Bronze and Individual Bronze. He was named AGA Rider of the Year twice, and AGA Show Jumping Champion twice. He competed in three Olympic Games and won team Silver in Atlanta in 1996.
Could it be that asking questions is one of the keys to Matz’ success in not just one, but two competitive equestrian pursuits? I suspect it is. So, if he can ask himself 51 questions, we can ask ourselves at least that many.