Trainer stays as cool as his champion horse "You make your own luck in this business, and he's a pretty lucky fellow," a longtime friend says about Michael Matz.

Posted: May 07, 2006

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The race had been over for about an hour. Billy Glass, smoking a cigarette and wearing a Barbaro hat, was talking about how he had known Michael Matz for almost 40 years, since they started out on the equestrian circuit - Matz as a rider, Glass as a groom.

"He's not a [con artist], and he's not a conniver, and he's not a cheater," Glass said yesterday about the trainer of Barbaro, who won the 132d Kentucky Derby yesterday. "He's just a hard-working, straight-shooting individual."

Glass was asked whether Matz would cut loose last night.

"No," he responded, laughing. "I guarantee you he could drink a 12-pack of Heineken and not even waver. But his idea of enjoyment is being with his family. All his family is here. His brothers are here. His mom is here. His beautiful children are here . . ."

But this is a man who stays in control. His story is unique. A three-time Olympian equestrian, a silver medalist in 1996. He survived a 1989 plane crash that killed 112 people. Three children he helped out of the plane were at the race yesterday, all grown up. They've stayed in touch. But everybody around Matz says that crash doesn't come up in conversation.

"His claim to fame today has nothing to do with the plane crash," Glass, who now runs show-horse events, said. "It has to do with his character. You make your own luck in this business, and he's a pretty lucky fellow."

Winding down his show-jumping career, Matz began training a couple of thoroughbreds at Delaware Park, then went into it full-bore in 2000. He said he was lucky that some quality owners, such as Fitz Dixon, followed him from one discipline to the new one.

Soon Roy and Gretchen Jackson brought him some horses.

"Weren't we lucky!" Gretchen Jackson said of going to a trainer without much experience. "You never know how it's going to play out. He had a great reputation. He lived over the hill; he trained at Fair Hill," in Maryland, the training center where Matz trains most of his horses now, 25 minutes from the Jacksons' home in West Grove, Chester County. "We could just jump in a car filthy dirty and go down and see our horses. To find somebody talented with a great reputation nearby, we really were pleased from the get-go."

Matz raises his eyebrows at questions about the lengthy layoff Barbaro had going in. Thirteen weeks with just one race. He had to smile when a question was asked about whether Barbaro would be up to three Triple Crown races in five weeks, starting with the May 20 Preakness.

"Well, the table's turned, isn't it?" Matz said. "That's what we were planning for with the five weeks' rest."

Watching his first horse win the Kentucky Derby, Matz kept his cool easily.

"Just don't fall down," he remembered thinking.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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