On the chilly, but serene morning of April 30, Michael Matz worked diligently in his barn office before emerging into the sunshine to greet a farrier ready to shoe one of his horses.
Things were relatively quiet and void of the media buzz that surrounded other such barns as Richard Dutrow and Eoin Harty, and Matz enjoyed a peaceful moment and reflected on the chances of his colt Visionaire in the May 3 Run for the Roses.
Visionaire arrived at Churchill Downs last week, and Matz said the son of Grand Slamhad settled into his new surroundings “terrific.”
“He worked nice on Monday, and there have been no problems since then,” said Matz, who paused with concern to make sure a loose horse on the backstretch was caught before continuing his thoughts.
Looking toward the rapidly approaching $2,211,800 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Matz admitted he was a little anxious. “I’m sure everybody is, though,” he said. “I think Visionaire tries the best he can do every time. Whether it’s good enough, nobody knows--only time can tell.”
Visionaire will enter the Derby off a record of 3-1-1 from six starts and earnings of $250,760. Owned by Team Valor International and Vision Racing, his most recent efforts include a third to other Derby starters Pyro and Z Fortune in the Feb. 9 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds; a nose victory in the March 8 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct; and a disappointing fifth over Polytrack in the April 12 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
“He’s a very quiet horse with a very good disposition and I think he’ll handle everything perfectly fine,” said Matz of the intimidating 20-horse field that is slated to enter the starting gate May 3. “He’s very easy (personality-wise).”
Matz said there was no comparison between Visionaire and the late Barbaro, whom he saddled to take the 2006 Derby.
“(Visionaire) is a completely different personality than Barbaro,” he explained. “Visionaire is quiet…Barbaro did everything right, but he was just a different type of horse.”
Visionaire has certainly taken a completely different Derby trail course than Barbaro, who won the Laurel Futurity on grass, Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT), Holy Bull (gr. III), and Florida Derby (gr. I) leading up to the first Saturday of May 2006, but that doesn’t necessarily diminish any hope in Matz’ mind.
“Obviously, last time we were one of the favorites, and this time, we’re not one of the favorites,” said Matz, who will be the first trainer to draw a post position for Visionaire the evening of April 30. “But the reason we’re in it is because we all have a chance.”