BALTIMORE - Michael Matz was seated with his family in those same box seats overlooking the Pimlico finish line. Rewind a year and it could have been the scene right before the Preakness. The trainer was anxiously looking down the stretch to see one of his horses coming out of the starting gate.
Only this horse was barely 100 yards away, almost at the exact spot where Barbaro's right hind leg had blown apart in the 2006 Preakness. Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, were already in the winner's circle, hoping that Matz would soon join them.
The three of them had not been back to Pimlico since that 2006 Preakness. This time they would get the right ending. The Matz-trained Chelokee was the overwhelming favorite in the first Barbaro Stakes. The colt ran right to his odds, winning by 4 3/4 lengths.
This time, Matz, rather than bolting down the stairs toward the track, was smiling and accepting congratulations as he headed for a mosh pit of a winner's circle where the Jacksons would present the trophy.
"This sort of tied a knot around the whole thing," Gretchen Jackson said.
The Jacksons were down for the day with their daughter Lucy and her children. As the winner's circle began to clear, only the Jacksons and Matz were left in the place almost everybody thought they would be greeting Barbaro last year.
"We were hoping it would end up this way all week," Roy Jackson said. "We saw Michael [and Chelokee's rider] Ramon [Dominguez] at Delaware Park on Wednesday and told them, 'You've got to make it come out this way.' This is what we would have scripted if we could have."
The Jacksons and Matz all know what they had in Barbaro. They also find themselves in another place now.
"We've sort of moved on," Roy Jackson said. "It's another year and we're pretty positive people. I really haven't thought about the accident all that very much."
Gretchen is there too, most of the time.
"I don't picture it anymore," she said.
She pictures Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby by the largest margin in 60 years.
Sometimes, she said, seeing him run like that does make her sad because she wonders what he was going to become as a race horse.
Matz had considered the Preakness for Chelokee, but it was clear he made the right decision. Chelokee overwhelmed a weak field, but he did not run nearly fast enough to have been a factor in the Preakness.
"It's really nice to win a race named after a horse you trained," Matz said. "It's an honor."
The trainer has a barn full of 2-year-olds back at Fair Hill. And he has his memories. They all do. *