BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Michael Matz could have another horse for the Kentucky Derby this year, yet nothing can replace his memories of Barbaro.
The trainer made that perfectly clear yesterday morning outside his barn at Palm Meadows training center, when he pulled an envelope from his car and shared a letter sent by a young boy from Namibia.
"He's 10 years old, he's an orphan, and he has AIDS," Matz said, his voice cracking with emotion. "He knew about Barbaro."
The horse's dramatic effect on a sick, young orphan halfway around the world is another example of how Barbaro has become so revered.
"I'm never going to be over Barbaro," Matz said. "It's a good memory and I'll always have that memory, but I can't live in the past all the time."
On Saturday, Matz will send out Chelokee in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, hoping his 3-year-old colt can prove himself good enough to run in the Derby on May 5.
"He seems like he's getting better with every race," Matz said. "Whether he's as good as the top level, that has to be seen. That's why we're giving him that opportunity to try."
Just a year ago, it was an undefeated Barbaro winning the Florida Derby before his overpowering victory in the Derby five weeks later. He then shattered his right hind leg a few strides into the Preakness and was euthanized eight months later, on Jan. 29.
Chelokee has won two of five races, is making his stakes debut and is 8-1 on the morning line.
The bay colt broke his maiden by 131/4 lengths at Delaware Park in October, and beat a quality field in an allowance race at Gulfstream on March 3.
A field of nine was entered for the 11/8-mile Florida Derby, a final prep before the Derby.
"Right now, I'd love nothing more than for this horse to run well, and go back to the Kentucky Derby," Matz said. "Whether I have the same shot as I did last year nobody will know. But we're trying."
Charges against vet dropped in vodka injection case
- Four misdemeanor charges were dropped against a veterinarian accused of injecting horses with vodka to calm them before races after three witnesses scheduled to testify couldn't be located.
Jay Stewart, the former president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association, faced six months in jail and $1,000 in fines, or both, on each Class II misdemeanor count of tampering with a publicly exhibited contest.
"Without their testimony, I'm unable to go forward on these counts," Hall County Attorney Mark Young said.
Young said an investigation into the 2005 allegations at Fonner Park would continue and that he might file more charges later.