Photo: Eclipse Spotswire
Kathy Ritvo’s story is old news. But the human interest angle never dies. With apologies to Audie Murphy, Kathy Ritvo has been to hell and back. When she says she’s just happy to be here, she really means it.
The heart transplant operation to save her life on Nov. 13, 2008 at the age of 39 and the storylines that ensued have been well documented by the media, who instantly embraced Ritvo and her against-all-odds saga that’s warmed the hearts of thousands of fans and racetrackers nationwide.
Suffering from what was diagnosed as cardiomyopathy, doctors told her that without the surgery, her chances of survival were nil.
Fast forward to September, 2013. Ritvo, short, blonde and a lover of Thoroughbreds, stands outside Barn 126 at Santa Anita, a four-month-old, four-pound King Charles Cavalier Spaniel pup named Oliver cradled so softly in the crook of her left arm, it sleeps contentedly. Ever caring, Ritvo is still. She doesn’t want to see Oliver twist.
A few feet away grazing on a patch of green grass is the horse she trains, Mucho Macho Man
, at 17 hands a giant commanded by a woman Lilliputian in length but Amazonian in breadth.
Mucho Macho Man is being readied for the Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday, one of five Grade I prep races at Santa Anita this Saturday that could lead to a spot in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 1 and 2. A good showing will land Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Classic, in which he was second to Fort Larned in last year’s edition at Santa Anita.
“We got here on Sept. 9 and Macho’s settled in really well,” Ritvo said. “He’s been training great,” the words coming within earshot of Finn Green, the Racing Manager for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, which owns Mucho Macho Man.
“He’s an easy horse to deal with,” said Green, whose real first name is Jonathan. “When we were young, my brother Chris couldn’t say Jonathan, only the last syllable, which he pronounced ‘Finn.’ I’ve been called that ever since.
“Macho pretty much does what he wants when he wants. He eats when he eats, he works when he works and he sleeps when he sleeps. He’s not distracted.”
Added Ritvo: “He’s really smart. He’s confident and loves to train.” His final major drill for the Awesome Again came Saturday, a five furlong move on Santa Anita’s main track in 1:01.
Ritvo got her training license at 18 and began her career at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass. “My husband, Tim, was training Macho before I did,” Ritvo said. “The horse ran a great race in the Classic last year (losing by a half-length after pushing Fort Larned the length of the stretch). We had a really good year.”
Tim, now president of Gulfstream Park, which, like Santa Anita, is owned by Frank Stronach, met Kathy at Suffolk Downs when he was 19 and she was 16. He took her to her senior prom and they were married on Aug. 5, 1990.
They’ve held true to their vows “for better or worse” and hope their rocky road is behind them.
Mucho Macho Man, who will be ridden by Gary Stevens in the Awesome Again, has six wins, five seconds and six thirds from 21 starts, and earnings of $2,440,410.
When it comes to heart, Mucho Macho Man’s is bigger than Kathy’s.
But for Team Macho, one size fits all.