Michael Matz

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Michael Matz
Equestrian • Unionville

During his three-plus decades as a rider and trainer of horses, Michael Matz has generated more than $25 million in purses. And along the way, he's reached the pinnacle of each endeavor, riding off with an Olympic medal and becoming the trainer of the Kentucky Derby winner.

But none of it would have been possible if Matz - who is one of a dozen new members of the Chester County Sports Hall of Fame - didn't have the self-confidence to decline a safe, secure career path to follow his dreams.

"My father was in the plumbing business and the idea was for me to eventually take over," said Matz, 61, who operates out of his farm near Unionville. "When I didn't do that and said I was going to go work with horses instead, my parents didn't understand. But I know at this point they are proud of me. "You never know where you are going to end up. I have a nice family, six children, and I get up every day and work with horses. It's a pretty good life." Well before he received international attention as the trainer of Barbaro, Matz was an accomplished show jump rider. He participated in three Olympics from 1976-96, capping it off in style with a silver medal in the team competition in Atlanta. "I was asked to carry the American flag during the closing ceremonies - that was special," Matz acknowledged. "We weren't expected to win a medal, but we did it."

Matz was also singled out because seven years earlier, he saved four children in the aftermath of a crash involving United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa.

As a rider, Matz collected three medals in two World Championship appearances, including a gold in 1986 in Aachen, Germany. And he also competed in four Pan American Games from 1975-1995, bringing home a total of eight medals, including five golds. By the time he retired from show jumping in 2000, Matz was the sport's leading money winner, having generated $1.7 million. "I was very lucky to have some very good horse and very good owners," he said. "And when it came time, I thought it was better for me to retire when I was still on top, but I wanted to try to continue with training horses. And I was always fond of racing."

His second career as a thoroughbred trainer has also been a smashing success. In about 3,300 starts, his horses have won 514 times, with nearly 1,000 additional finishes in the money. The total winnings so far: $23.3 million.

"It's just like riding," Matz said. "Good horses make good trainers." And Barbaro was the best, winning the 2006 Kentucky Derby by nearly seven lengths - the most dominating performance in the race since 1946. But two weeks later, Barbaro suffered a catastrophic injury while running in the Preakness Stakes, which ended his racing career and eventually led to his death. "He was obviously a great horse and it was a tragedy what happened," said Matz. "He had that will to win and the way he won the Kentucky Derby was so convincing, he was just a wonder to be around. "I don't know what went wrong. It really hit me for a loop."

It is clearly a bittersweet chapter for Matz. But he bounced back to win the second Triple Crown race of his training career last spring when Union Rags prevailed in the Belmont Stakes.

"Sometimes I feel a little helpless when I throw a jockey up there," Matz admitted. "I've had my times when I felt like, "I wish I could do this instead of depending on somebody else.""
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