ELKTON, Md. - Michael Matz entered a horse in the Preakness on Wednesday. It just wasn't the horse he had been thinking for months he would be running in Saturday's race at Pimlico.
If you had just dropped by Matz's barn at the Fair Hill Training Center on Wednesday morning with no context, it all looked so routine. Sets of horses came off the track as the next group was readied for the track. Some horses walked the shed row. Others were outside getting cleaned up.
After the outside work was done, Matz took to the phone to call racing offices to enter horses for weekend races. Perhaps, the daily chores helped take the trainer's mind off what could have been.
As one 3-year-old filly headed for the track, Matz said that "she had just won a nice race the other day at Belmont, beating older horses."
"She" would be Colonial Flag, who did indeed win the sixth race on Sunday at Belmont Park. Proving that he holds no grudges, Matz rode Julien Leparoux on a filly that he expects to see in a stakes race next out.
Tuesday night, Leparoux was out at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., riding a nice horse for Matz named Brilliant Katie in a $100,000 stakes. She finished second.
So the trainer can forgive. He just can't forget.
He wanted to run another of his nice 3-year-olds in last Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. But the owner wanted to try the Preakness with Teeth of the Dog so the colt, third in the Wood Memorial at 53-1, was entered. Meanwhile, stablemate Union Rags will be resting in his stall when they run the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Once Union Rags finished seventh in the Derby, after a trip that went wrong from the start, Matz decided it would be prudent to wait for the Belmont Stakes.
"None," Matz said.
So, the second string runs in the Preakness.
"My first choice would have been the Peter Pan, but he is improving and, after watching the Derby, I guess you never know what can happen," Matz said.
No, you do not. All the barn got from its Kentucky experience was saddle blankets from "Kentucky Derby 138" and "Kentucky Oaks 138." They hang on a wall in the middle of the barn.
Union Rags has "just galloped" since returning from Kentucky. He might work the middle of next week.
Matz has not said, but even his loyalty has limits. When Union Rags, the horse that Matz knew was special last May, runs next, Leparoux will not be riding.
The colt broke horribly in the Derby because either: (a) the jockey was unprepared; (b) the horse was unprepared; or (c) both.
Really does not matter at this point. You can't go back.
So, it's Teeth of the Dog to Pimlico, 90 minutes south of Fair Hill. The owner is into speed figures and, "he thinks we have a chance. I just don't think he's as good as Union Rags right now."
What Matz and many others would like to know is exactly that: How good is Union Rags right now?
The Florida Derby was a small mess, the Kentucky Derby a huge mess. It is really hard to draw conclusions. Matz has watched the Derby replay a few times.
"Everybody sort of has a different story," Matz said. "Whether he came out slow or Julien rode him that way, the bottom line is he got pinched back and nothing got done about it."
The aggressive "Jersey" Joe Bravo will ride Teeth of the Dog. The next rider for Union Rags is to be determined.
"It's like any other sport," Matz said of the Derby fiasco. "Sometimes you've got to make things happen. Sometimes, if Plan A doesn't work, you've got to go to Plan B. Maybe, [Leparoux] went all the way to C, D and E. I don't know."
Whatever, Union Rags got too far back, got steadied hard heading into the far turn and ended up with too much to do and too little time to do it.
So, it is on to the Belmont Stakes and the rest of 2012.
Bodemeister favorite. Bodemeister drew the No. 7 post Wednesday and was made the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's second leg of the Triple Crown.
Derby winner I'll Have Another will start from the No. 9 post as the second favorite at 5-2 and again be ridden by Mario Gutierrez.
Also entered are Tiger Walk (30-1), Teeth of the Dog (15-1), Pretension (30-1), Zetterholm (20-1), Went the Day Well (6-1), Creative Cause (6-1), Daddy Nose Best (12-1), Optimizer (30-1) and Cozzetti (30-1).