A hero and his horse won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Undefeated Barbaro stormed into the lead at the top of the stretch and won convincingly -- by 6 1-2 lengths -- to give trainer Michael Matz his first Kentucky Derby victory and jockey Edgar Prado his first winning ride.
Matz' joyous day came nearly 17 years after he led three children to safety following a fiery plane crash into a Midwestern American cornfield. The two brothers and their sister are now grown and joined Matz in the grandstand at Churchill Downs, where they cheered the strapping bay colt onto his sixth consecutive win.
Given a masterful ride by Prado, Barbaro beat a full field of 20 3-year-olds -- considered one of the toughest in years for the first leg of the US thoroughbred Triple Crown.
With Sinister Minister and Keyed Entry setting the pace, Barbaro settled in right behind and made his move around the far turn, just as he had in winning his first five races. The Florida Derby winner, making his first start in five weeks, easily beat Bluegrass Cat to the finish.
Steppenwolfer was third, and there was a dead heat for fourth between Brother Derek and Jazil.
Barbaro becomes the sixth undefeated winner, following Smarty Jones in 2004.
Sent off as the 6-1 second choice by the crowd of 157,536 -- the second largest in Kentucky Derby history -- Barbaro covered the 1 1/4 mile course in 2 minutes, 1.36 seconds, well off Secretariat's record of 1:59 2/5 in 1973.
The son of Dynaformer, owned by Gretchen and Roy Jackson's Lael Farm, returned US$14.20 to win on a US$2 wager.
Sweetnorthernsaint, the surprise 5-1 favorite, finished seventh. Lawyer Ron finished 12th.
Barbaro overcame a scary start, when he stumbled briefly but quickly righted himself. By the first turn, he was racing among the leaders, and in perfect position to make his winning move.
"This is a very excellent horse," Prado said. "All the time he showed me the quality horse he is. ... Dreams come true.''
The margin of victory was the largest since Assault won by eight lengths in 1946.
The 55-year-old Matz left the equestrian world to train thorough-breds eight years ago and took an unconventional route to his first Derby. Barbaro won the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4 in his first start on the dirt. It wasn't until eight weeks later that the colt raced again, winning the Florida Derby.
With the win, Barbaro became the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win without a prep race four or more weeks before the Derby.
Matz also became the fourth straight first-time Derby trainer to win the race, following John Shirreffs with Giacomo, John Servis with Smarty Jones and Barclay Tagg with Funny Cide.
"It's a great, great, great feeling," Matz said.
Showing Up was sixth, followed by Sweetnorthernsaint, Deputy Glitters, Point Determined, Seaside Retreat, Storm Treasure, Lawyer Ron, Cause to Believe, Flashy Bull, Private Vow, Sinister Minister, Bob and John, A.P. Warrior, Sharp Humor and Keyed Entry.
If Barbaro goes on to win the Preakness in two weeks, the stage would be set for a fourth Triple Crown try in the past five years at the Belmont Stakes on June 10. War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in 2003 and Smarty Jones in 2004 each won the Derby and Preakness, but came up short in the last race.