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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Winner's Circle: A Big Horse Creates Big Waves

By | Sports

Ripples form when you toss a stone in a pool of water. The same thing happens when a horse steps in the winner’s circle, and the better the horse, the further the ripple reaches.

 

It’s a magical thing when you pair the right horse with the right people, and you won’t find a better example than Mucho Macho Man. The big, charismatic colt (he stands 17.2 hands, as tall as Zenyatta) and his great connections have done more than form ripples – they’ve created waves.

MMM (Mucho Macho Man) was foaled in a Florida field, stillborn and thought to be dead until he popped up and unexpectedly ran off. During this time, Kathy Ritvo suffered from heart disease, her condition worsening every year. By 2008, she was so gravely ill she found herself vacillating between wishing to live and wanting to die. In November, and not one moment too soon, a suitable donor was located.

Kathy Ritvo’s heart is attached to racing every which way. She took out her trainer’s license when she was only 18. Her husband, Tim Ritvo rode races when he was younger and later moved into training. The two worked as a team and often ran split stables. That’s not an easy life for a family. In Florida, they met former NYRA CEO, Kenny Noe. Learning of Kathy’s heart disease, he introduced the couple to Jay Wise, who owned Southern Wine and Spirits. It was Wise who sent Kathy Ritvo to the chief of cardiology at the University of Miami for her transplant. Tim Ritvo said, “If any of those pieces is missing, who knows what happens.”

While Ritvo worked to restore her health, MMM grew up. His racing career began at Calder as a 2-year-old in 2010. He finished second in his first start and there he attracted the attention of Dean Reeves. It took some negotiation but Reeves was finally able to purchase 70 percent of the colt. He transferred him to Tim Ritvo’s barn and MMM made his next start in Reeves silks in Saratoga. He finished third and after the meet shipped to Monmouth to try two-turns. Paired with Elbar Coa, the next stop was the winner’s circle.

Back in New York, MMM put in a strong fall campaign with seconds behind To Honor and Serve in both the Gll Nashua and Gll Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Tim Ritvo had become an executive at Gulfstream Park and Kathy picked up the reins - nothing new for the seasoned trainer.

News travels fast around the racetrack, and soon Reeves’ phone was ringing off the hook with people offering to train his “big” horse. He was not tempted, and in a move I hugely admire, stuck with Kathy Ritvo.

The popular bay colt started his three-year-old campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes. His regular rider, Elbar Coa, suffered a career-ending back injury a few weeks later, but here again Dean Reeves displayed his loyalty. When MMM won the Gll Risen Star at the Fairgrounds, Reeves sent a check matching the winning jockey’s fee to Coa. Loyalty is obviously very important to Reeves – a trait which creates the right kind of image for this sport.

In his next start, MMM managed to finish third in the Louisiana Derby in spite of losing a shoe right out of the gate. By this time, the colt was on everyone’s radar, and Reeves’ phone was ringing again – this time with people wanting to buy a Kentucky Derby starter. The offers climbed as entry time neared. “My nephew, 32-33 at the time, couldn’t believe I didn’t sell him,” said Reeves.

Next came Louisville and every horse owner’s dream, the Kentucky Derby. MMM became the media blitz. Reeves spoke of the experience, “My nephew was there and summed it up for all of us when he said, ‘Thank God you didn’t sell him. There’s no way money could buy experience like this – the parties, the people, the whole week, the excitement of the race – it’s just incredible!’”

The roses went to Animal Kingdom, but MMM served his camp proud with a third-place finish. The courageous colt ran hard but went unplaced in the next two legs of the Triple Crown. Not many horses hold up to such a rigorous racing schedule, and for MMM, an added amazement is his late birthdate. He was foaled on June 15; he did all of this while still short of his third birthday. He was given a break after the Belmont while Tim Ritvo was handed a heavier load, stepping up to president and general manager of Gulfstream Park. Kathy ran MMM once more as a 3-year-old. The well-suited pair added another win in an allowance race at the Big A.

This year MMM has three wins from four starts. He began his 4-year-old season with a win in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic, followed by a win in the Gll Gulfstream Handicap. He finished third in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill. Reeves, in the interim, bought out his partners to become the sole owner. Back in New York, MMM ran lights out in the Suburban Handicap on July 7. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was aboard for the first time, and without ever having to feel the sting of the whip, the willing colt smoked to a scintillating victory in the prestigious race.  

Shipped back to Saratoga, MMM settled in. The plan was to wait for the Woodward. NYRA management must have encouraged Ritvo to enter in the Whitney. They would have wanted the ripples a good horse creates, but with a fifth-generation horsemen as racing manager, a patient trainer and an owner who listens, they held to their plan.

Smith will come in to ride the Woodward. “I’m tickled to death to come back and ride him. He ran an amazing race downstate.” Smith said. As the regular rider for Zenyatta, Smith knows a thing or two about creating new fans.

Ritvo feels she’s found the prefect rider for her colt. “He’s patient, strong and loves horses,” she said. Smith would like nothing better than to add another Woodward win to his long and impressive resume. Fans will remember when he won the race with MMM’s grandsire, Holy Bull, in 1994. The Woodward was run at Belmont then, but Horse of the Year Holy Bull was no stranger to Saratoga; he carried Smith to victory in the Travers that year.

Everybody enjoys the ripple effect a good horse creates, but racing has its tensions, and as Ritvo admits, “I feel like I’m sending my boy to war when I lead him over there. He tries so hard; he’s such a willing horse and gives 100 percent every time.” Luckily, Mucho Macho Man is in a camp that carefully manages his career. They can’t remove the natural risks of racing, but they do make every effort to execute the safest trips possible for their horses and riders. This team is solid as a rock and the ripple effect they’ve created just keeps on growing.

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