Michael R. Matz
Michael Ray Matz (born January 23, 1951 in Collegeville, Pennsylvania) is an American Olympic equestrian rider and horse trainer. He is perhaps most well known for having trained the ill-fated Barbaro to win the 132nd Kentucky Derby in 2006. The previously undefeated colt suffered a career and life ending injury after the start of the Preakness Stakes. He lives in Wellington, Florida.
Matz had a highly successful equestrian career as a show jumping rider. He was a six-time U.S. national champion, and won at least one major show jumping event in 20 consecutive years. Matz won team gold at the 1986 World Championships in Aachen riding Chef, to go with his individual and team bronze medals he won at the 1978 World Equestrian Championships while riding Jet Run. He also so won the 1981 Show Jumping World Cup on Jet Run. Matz has won a total of four gold medals and four bronze medals at the Pan American Games, and made Olympic teams in 1976, 1992, and 1996. In 1996, he won a team silver medal on Rhum IV, in the show jumping equestrian event, along with Peter Leone, Leslie Burr-Howard, and Anne Kursinski. Matz was also chosen to carry the United States flag into Centennial Olympic Stadium at the Closing Ceremonies of the 1996 Games. He retired from show jumping as the leading money-winning rider in the sport's American history, with over $1.7 million.
He began to train thoroughbreds in 1998, making training his full-time profession once he failed to make the 2000 Olympic team. He trains at the Fair Hill Training Center, in Maryland. In addition to Barbaro, he trained the 2005 Arlington Million winner Kicken Kris, and shortly after Barbaro's injury, he returned to the scene of his greatest victory to score another major Churchill Downs win at the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff with Round Pond.
On April 1, 2006, Matz was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.
United Flight 232
Matz was chosen for the honor of carrying the flag at the 1996 Closing Ceremonies not only because of his illustrious career in the show ring, but also for an extraordinary act of heroism seven years before. On July 19, 1989, Matz and his fiancee (now his wife), D.D. Alexander, were traveling home from judging a horse show in Hawaii. They missed their connection from Denver to Philadelphia, and had a choice of two flights 20 minutes apart. They chose United Airlines Flight 232.
After a catastrophic engine failure that destroyed all of the plane's hydraulic systems, the plane crashed at Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, Iowa. Although the crash claimed 111 lives, Matz not only survived, but led four young children to safety. He first led three siblings who were traveling alone to safety, and then went into the burning wreckage to save an 11-month-old girl. He was named "Person of the Week" by ABC News for his heroism on Flight 232. Matz has remained in touch with the three siblings, who were at Churchill Downs on Derby Day 2006, and met with him during the run-up to the race.