Michael Matz is best known these days as the Kentucky Derby winning trainer of famed racehorse Barbaro.
But before he was making headlines at the track, he was making them in show jumping with an equally famous Thoroughbred.
Jet Run was a 16.3 hand bay bred in Maryland that found early success in the show ring with Bernie Traurig and Melanie Smith. The gelding won the New York Grand Prix at age six and was sold to Mexico shortly after where he went on to capture his first of three Pan American gold medals and to compete for Mexico at the 1976 Olympics.
Matz recounted the story of how he ended up with the horse on The Jay Duke Show earlier this month. It’s a tale that starts on a pull-out couch…
“Fernando Senderos,” Matz shared, “owned the horse and had him on the Mexican team. When they were in the U.S., the horse would stay at Mr. [F. Eugene] Dixon’s stable, who I worked for. I would ride him all the time in between the shows since Fernando was also working for his father’s business.”
In the late 70s, Jet Run was regarded as one of the best show jumpers in the world. Senderos’ accommodations when he travelled to America, however, were decidedly less impressive.
Continued Matz with a chuckle, “I had a one-bedroom apartment and a pull-out couch and he and his wife slept on the couch! But it worked at the time.”
It was during one such visit that the Mexican Olympian offered Matz the ride on Jet Run.
“We all got up one day and Fernando said: ‘I think I’m going to go into business with my father, and I’d like you to have this horse. If you can’t get someone to buy him for you, I’m going to go ask [a list of people]. He had thought it out very well,” recalled Matz.
“So we went to my boss and made our case. Mr. Dixon said: ‘Well, I don’t know what to say but it just seems to me that we have to have him.”
There was one caveat though: “It’s up to Mrs. D.”
Senderos offered the horse at the price he paid for it: $250,000. “Probably now you can’t buy a preliminary jumper for that!” laughed Matz. “Needless to say it went ahead, and I can’t thank them enough for letting me ride a horse like that.”
While Matz was thrilled to get the ride, he wasn’t banking on the broken nose that came with it.
“Wouldn’t you believe it but a week later, I had him out by the barn and a trash truck came and he threw his head up and broke my nose and gave me two black eyes! Well, we went to the Pan-American Games with two black eyes and my jaw wired shut… I looked like a raccoon!”
Matz and Jet Run won individual and team gold medals at that 1979 Pan American Games. In the years that followed they went on to capture the American Gold Cup, twice (1979, 1980); the Grand Prix of New York (1980); the Washington’s President’s Cup (1980); both the World Cup Final and AGA Horse of the Year (1981); plus two world championship bronze medals and countless individual classes.
Jet Run was retired to the Dixons’ farm in Pennsylvania in 1985 at age 16. Mrs. Dixon, to this day, remains a supporter of Matz, now with racehorses.
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