Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Barbaro: The Horse Who Captured America’s Heart by Sean Clancy. 

In a thirty-year riding career, Matz had ridden in countless nerve-rattling jump offs, competed in three Olympic games, carried the American flag in the closing ceremonies, and survived a plane crash. Now he was preparing to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Not just any horse. A horse he knew had enough talent and class to win the greatest race in the world. The night before, he had gone through the race fifty times, the questions relentlessly rolling through his head. What if Barbaro gets caught in traffic? What if he’s dull?…What if he’s sharp?…Have I done enough?…Have I done too much?

The same questions repeated themselves rapid-fire through Matz’ brain as he ran the gauntlet of Derby Day. Family had to be situated, passes needed to be obtained, a reunion with the Roth children was wedged in the already tight schedule. The media hovered, documenting his every move. Still, Matz couldn’t stop going over decisions he had made in the months and days leading up to this moment. His biggest moment in racing.

Finally, the time approached for the trainer to settle down to the business of getting his horse ready to run. Matz made his way through the crowd and onto the tightly packed main track to join Barbaro and Brette, who were waiting back at the barn. Though by himself and preoccupied by his thoughts, Matz was surrounded by a crush of owners, trainers, writers, and eager spectators, all trekking to the stable area to prepare for the Kentucky Derby walk.

About halfway around