An impressive victory in the Kentucky Derby raised the possibility of ending a 28-year drought.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Trainer Michael Matz was holding court outside his barn, his Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro just a few yards away munching grass.
Barely 12 hours after Barbaro become just the sixth undefeated Derby winner, Triple Crown talk filled the air. It happens every Sunday after the first Saturday in May, when hopes are high in thoroughbred racing that a superstar has arrived to revive the sport.
"You always want to have a horse you can say can win the Triple Crown," Matz said. "We think this is a terrific horse with tremendous ability. If I told you I didn't think in the long haul that we'd have a Triple Crown winner I'd be lying to you."
Matz has been confident about his dark bay colt since the start. After three victories on the turf, Barbaro was moved to the dirt and never flinched. In the Derby, he polished off 19 rivals and won by 6 1/2 lengths -- the largest margin since 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault won by eight lengths.
It's been 28 years since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown champion, and if Barbaro wins the Preakness in two weeks it would set the stage for a fourth Triple try in the past five years. The most recent was perhaps the most heartbreaking, when Smarty Jones lost to Birdstone in the final yards of the 2004 Belmont.
Barbaro, now 6-for-6, came out of the Derby in great shape. Exercise rider Peter Brette told the trainer Barbaro was feeing so good "you could enter him again tomorrow."
"We'll try to keep him at this level for the next two races and hopefully he'll become a famous horse," Matz said. "All we can do is try our best and hopefully he'll help us out."
Matz said Barbaro was leaving Churchill Downs later Sunday and would arrive at his home barn in Fair Hill, Md., this morning after a 12-hour van trip. Pimlico is just 60 miles away.
Barbaro, who gave Edgar Prado his first Derby win, will go against several familiar faces in the 1 3-16-mile Preakness. Brother Derek, who finished in a dead heat for fourth with Jazil, will give it another go, along with beaten favorite Sweetnorthernsaint (seventh) and Lawyer Ron (12th). Jazil is probable.
Trainer Bob Baffert said he might send one of his three Derby starters, Point Determined (ninth), Sinister Minister (16th) and Bob and John (17th).
Among the new shooters are Gotham winner Like Now, Withers winner Bernardini and possibly Simon Pure, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.
Baffert knows all about Triple tries. Three times he sent horses into the Belmont with the Triple Crown on the line, and three times they fell short. The trainer believes Barbaro has what it takes to be a champion.
"He looked like a man among boys in the paddock," Baffert said. The race, he added, "was spectacular ... what a specimen of a horse he is."
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who ran two horses in the Derby, won't be back for another try. He said Barbaro's dominant effort is worthy of Triple Crown discussion.
"It's impossible not to imagine that he might be good enough to do the unthinkable," Asmussen said. "I don't want to mention it. I don't want to jinx it."
Trainer Dan Hendricks would like to see a Triple Crown champion, but that won't stop him from trying to win the Preakness with Brother Derek. In the Derby, Brother Derek left from the No. 18 post, remained far outside most of the race and lost his right front shoe.
"If I can't beat him, then I hope he wins the Triple Crown," Hendricks said. "He'd be a deserving horse and the trainer is a true horseman."
What makes Barbaro so impressive is his versatility. He wins with authority on the turf, and on the dirt. After the Derby, owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson said they'd love to see their homebred run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Europe's most prestigious race.
"You get the feeling riding him that there's nothing this horse can't do, nothing at all," Brette said. "Dreams are endless with him. You can take him anywhere in the world, on grass on dirt. The world's his oyster."
Matz still says he doesn't know if Barbaro is better on the turf or the dirt. At this point, though, it's on to the Preakness and hopefully the Belmont on June 10.
"Who knows what he can do in the future," Matz said of his colt, who was a late April foal. "I'm sure he's going to mature more and who knows how good he can be?"
Can he produce a race to match the Derby?
"Maybe he doesn't have to be quite this good, maybe he could only be six lengths better or 5 1/2 or 4 1/2 or even one length -- a nose we'll be satisfied with," he said. "We'll do the best we can. I'm sure he will, too."