NEW YORK -- Alexis Barba has been Ms. Potentially Unique this spring. She was asked constantly about trying to become the first woman to train a Kentucky Derby winner. That didn't happen, although Make Music for Me outran his 30-1 odds to finish fourth at Churchill Downs. After skipping the Preakness, the colt is in town for Saturday's Belmont Stakes, so Barba is hearing the same question about a different race.
Her take hasn't changed since Derby week: "I'm just excited to be part of all this. I enjoy the moment as it comes. I don't look at it in terms of gender. If I'm the first woman to win it, that's a bonus."
Barba, 57, already has a training achievement all her own, as caretaker of the mascot of a baseball dynasty. Charlie O. was the Missouri mule owner Charles O. Finley brought along when he moved the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968.
Barba, a self-described "horse nut" growing up, worked at a stable in the Oakland hills where Charlie O. was boarded. "Yes, I was the keeper of the mule," said Barba, who lived close to the Coliseum. "I was the one who rode him out on the field and showed him to the children and rode him in the parades. It was pretty exciting because the A's won three World Series in a row (1972-74)."
She broke in on the racetrack at Golden Gate Fields, near San Francisco. She groomed and galloped for four trainers before joining Eddie Gregson's barn in 1980. Two years later, Gato Del Sol won the Derby for Gregson. In 2000, he committed suicide and Barba took over the stable.
Make Music for Me is 1-for-9, winning his only turf start. He's 0-for-7 on synthetics and still hasn't run on a fast track made of sand and loam. Asked which surface he prefers, Barba said, "Dirt, I hope."