Five years after winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with the ill-fated Barbaro, owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson and trainer Michael Matz have parted ways.
Both parties confirmed Aug. 17 that Matz was fired in July after more than 10 years of working together. The Jacksons, who own a 190-acre farm in West Grove, Pa. and race horses under the name Lael Stables, pulled 11 horses from Matz. The horses were given to trainers Barclay Tagg and Leigh Delacour.
Matz said he was blindsided by the decision, which came just a couple weeks after the Jacksons sent him four juveniles to train.
“I was totally surprised; I have no idea what their reason was,” Matz said. “Obviously I did something wrong or they lost confidence in me. I really don’t know. They called me in July to tell me, right after I ran three horses for them—one ran first, the other second, and the third one was off the board. When I sat down with them, two weeks later, I was told it was a business decision. It was obviously something I said or did; believe me, I just don’t know.”
Roy Jackson also said it was a business decision, but would not elaborate much more.
“We thought it was time for a change,” said Jackson, who has about 15 horses in training. “We just wanted to go in a different direction. I’d rather not comment about it too much; we just sat down and talked about it. There are no hard feelings.”
The Jacksons and Matz were swept into the spotlight in 2006 when Barbaro, a homebred son of Dynaformer, won the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 dominating lengths to remain undefeated in six lifetime starts. He went to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) two weeks later as the heavy favorite but tragedy struck soon after the start of the race when he was pulled up with a fractured right hind leg. A nation watched as Barbaro fought for his life over the next eight months, but he eventually succumbed to laminitis in January 2007.
Matz said he has nothing but fond memories of the time he spent together with the Jacksons, whom he called friends.
“I enjoyed being with them,” Matz said. “I thought they handled the whole Barbaro situation with class. I really liked them. They give me a Kentucky Derby winner, so I will always be very grateful. I just have to remember the good times and move on. It is what it is. I just have to move on. I have a nice crop of 2-year-olds this year.”
Matz’ most promising juvenile, Union Rags, romped by 7 1/4 lengths in the slop to win the Aug. 15 Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II). The son of Dixie Union is owned by Phyllis Wyeth.