Barbaro was loping back to collect his roses, winding down after winning Kentucky Derby 132 as second betting choice, when jockey Edgar Prado made clear what the race had been about.
It was all about this horse who had simply dominated this Derby, running off to win by 61/2 lengths over Bluegrass Cat, followed by Steppenwolfer. Only four others had won by a greater margin, all by 8 lengths.
Prado raised his arms expansively to acknowledge the cheering crowd of 157,536, the second-largest in Derby annals. Then he pointed downward from the saddle to his horse. On as perfect and sun-splashed a late afternoon as anyone could ever hope to see at Churchill Downs, the jockey was telling the world that this was all about Barbaro, the $14.20 winner of Derby 132.
Prado wasn't the lone ranger in his admiration. Consider jockey Robby Albarado's estimation after finishing third on Steppenwolfer:
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"Barbaro, man, he's an amazing horse."
Sure, this was also Prado's day, for the champion jockey had just won his first Kentucky Derby. Likewise, it was a day for the trainer, Michael Matz, an Olympic show jumper who had carried the flag at the games for the United States.
It was also a day for owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who by the way had bred and sold yesterday's winner of the English 2000 Guineas, an English classic on the level of the Kentucky Derby.
Yet, despite all else, here came Prado, high in the saddle, flush with victory, reminding all that the horse had made the whole thing possible. Barbaro, named for a foxhound, emerged looking like a tiger. Prado was intent to make this clear.
A few facts: Barbaro is the sixth undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby. Matz became the fourth consecutive rookie trainer to win a Derby. And Barbaro became the first in 50 years to win the Derby off a five-week layoff. The finish time was 2:01.36.
And to think that Barbaro's Derby began with a stumble. A lesser horse might not have recovered after tripping coming out of the gate.
Not so Barbaro, this son of the well-known, well-regarded Dynaformer (getting his first Derby winner), who was bred in Kentucky by his owners from a Carson City mare called La Ville Rouge. He stumbled, almost going to his knees. Then he came up running. And how.
The stumble was the only glitch in what turned out to be a charmed trip for Barbaro, racing just off the pace. But charmed trip or not, Barbaro left no doubt he was the class of an already classy group.
Who would have thought the outcome would wind up so clear, with undefeated Barbaro storming down the stretch all alone to win by his huge margin?
This was the Derby in which even the experts were all saying the quality was so deep that they were having trouble before the race, winnowing out a winner.
The crowd felt confident in Barbaro's chances -- but not that confident. It sent Barbaro into the race as only the second betting choice, behind Sweetnorthernsaint. The choice of Sweetnorthernsaint as favorite was somewhat surprising after pre-race buildup indicated Brother Derek might be the favorite. But Brother Derek's No. 18 post position apparently killed that.
The crowd guessed right. Despite the outside post and getting caught six-wide in the first turn, finding himself still wider late in the backstretch and then nine wide in the upper stretch, Brother Derek worked his way up to dead-heat for fourth with Jazil: the first dead-heat in Derby history.
"I never got a chance to drop in. Not the whole race. It was rough out there," lamented Brother Derek's jockey, Alex Solis.
Barbaro had a completely different trip than Brother Derek's caught-wide run. Barbaro always was within striking position, even though he, too, raced somewhat wide around the first turn.
Barbaro had the benefit of a more advantageous post: No. 8. But with the way he accelerated past horses on the far turn, Barbaro left little doubt he is the superior horse to his 19 rivals in this race.
Throughout the running, the winner was never far off the pace set by the leader, Keyed Entry, who was pressed by Sinister Minister through the first three-quarters of a mile.
Those two speed demons were whizzing through fairly fast early fractions of :22.63, :46.07, and 1:10.88. These splits weren't the quickest in Derby history, but awfully fast, nonetheless, for 11/4 miles.
But they were done well before they had reached the quarter pole. Just like the textbooks would have predicted for two horses battling on the lead. Sinister Minister got his head in front again, approaching the turn for home. But Barbaro was rolling, bearing down.
"When I turned him loose, he took off like a rocket," Prado said, proud of his horse.
Showing Up, lightly raced but determined, was the only horse Barbaro had to pass before taking off after Keyed Entry and Sinister Minister rounding the final turn. But other horses were also making a run at Barbaro, coming from father back.
Steppenwolfer, 18th in the first quarter-mile after getting bumped at the start, was working his way up between horses on the far turn before looming for his late-closing stretch run. He began his run through the lane six horses wide. But, like the closer that he is, he kept on coming, finishing only 2 lengths behind Bluegrass Cat.
The latter had followed Barbaro out around horses to make his run. But, as Bluegrass Cat's trainer, Todd Pletcher, acknowledged, "he was just second best."
With 20 horses in this maximum-size field, several got bounced around at the start and more suffered from the inevitable traffic problems. Bob and John got squeezed at the start. Steppenwolfer, as mentioned, got bumped. Showing Up bumped with Bob and John at the break. A. P. Warrior bumped Sweetnorthernsaint. Point Determined bumped Seaside Retreat in the stretch. As in any Derby with a full-size field, they needed a traffic cop.
Barbaro, in stumbling, had leaned on Bob and John. But not enough to change anything 11/4 miles later. Barbaro, long clear of traffic by then, sailed on alone to his next race in the Triple Crown.
Kentucky Derby winners who ran undefeated and their records before they entered
2006 Barbaro 5-0
2004 Smarty Jones 6-0
1977 Seattle Slew 6-0
1969 Majestic Prince 7-0
1922 Morvich 11-0
1915 Regret 3-0