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Veteran Olympic Silver-Medalist Michael Matz Wins Kentucky Derby on His First Visit to the Run for the Roses
Jeannie Blancq Putney, USEF
Imagine having an Olympic Silver medal of your very own. Imagine winning the greatest horse race in the world - the Kentucky Derby. To achieve either is a milestone in any horse lover’s life. To do both is almost unthinkable. That is unless you are Michael Matz, who has created his own exclusive club. And it has exactly one member. The 132nd Kentucky Derby was an exceptional day for this former Olympian and the horse he has trained for the past year, Barbaro.
Matz and his newly rose-crowned Barbaro took the honors on a beautiful Kentucky day after a brief stumble coming out of the gate only to prove what true athletes are made of by winning the Derby by seven lengths. This is the fourth year in a row that a “rookie” trainer has won the distinguished honor.
All week reporters have been talking about the 55-year-old Matz and his Olympic medal as well as his heroic rescue of three children during a plane crash in 1989. The humble Matz has said nothing about the crash for years and does not wish to receive additional accolades for his heroics. Today was all about the new focus and love in his life - racing.
In 1996, Matz was chosen by the entire U.S. Olympic contingent to carry the American flag in the closing ceremonies in the Atlanta Olympics, making him the only equestrian athlete ever to receive that honor. In 1998, Matz hung up his show jumping spurs and entered the world of Thoroughbred racing. A true horse person, Matz was even in the saddle the morning of the Derby, ponying for Barbaro and jockey Edgar Prado during their brief morning workout.
Matz won his Team Silver medal in 1996 aboard Rhum IV. The other members of the U.S. Silver-medal winning team included Leslie Burr-Howard aboard Extreme, Peter Leone aboard Legato, and Anne Kursinski aboard Eros. Matz is also a veteran of the 1976 and 1992 Olympic Games riding Grande and Heisman, respectively and has numerous other equestrian awards.
Photo Credit: Anne M. Eberhardt, Michael Matz and Kentucky Derby 132 Winner Barbaro