A Weekend to Remember


“The highest of highs and lowest of lows.” As much as this phrase personifies the rapid and sometimes unexpected swing of emotions that encompass thoroughbred horse racing, I cannot help but think about how it reaches beyond the Sport of Kings.


For nearly all of my life, I have had to grow and watch my father suffer from a degenerative heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition, has portions of the heart muscle never stop growing, to the point where the engrossed size will lead to arithmetic heart rhythms and ultimately total cardiac failure. However, despite my father’s illness, pain, and significantly reduced quality of life, he was always smiling. He never showed any negativity and taught me the significance and joy that can be found in every conscious moment.


About 5 years ago, my father’s heart had reached a degenerative state (approximately 25% the output of a normal heart) with no signs of improvement through various medications and therapies. It was decided he would be put onto the transplant list, with hope that sometime in the future he would be gifted with a new heart and new opportunity at life.


Nearly three and half years after being on the transplant list, and continually showing the degenerative signs of his heart disease, a horse was emerging onto the triple crown trail that I took note of. Mucho Macho Man caught my eye, not only for his racing talent and catchy name, but because of something I couldn’t explain at the time. It was soon after, that I discovered that his trainer, Kathy Ritvo, had been a heart transplant survivor from the same heart condition that was so devastatingly crippling my father.


I explained story of Mucho Macho Man and his trainer to my dad, and we found our derby horse.


Four days before the Belmont Stakes, my father was admitted to Ceder Sanai medical center in Los Angeles for what would be his permanent home until a new heart arrived…if a new heart arrived. From his hospital bed he watched Mucho Macho Man in the Belmont, and complete his rigorous triple crown campaign. It was not until nearly a month later, on July 6th, 2011 when I received a phone call from my mom with a message that a heart had become available for my father. For what had been the lowest of lows in my family’s lives had instantly become the highest of highs. However, it was not without a bitter thought that this could not have been possible without knowing that somewhere another family was mourning the death a loved one that had given my father the opportunity of continued life.


A year after my father’s surgery and successful transplant, he was living a perfectly healthy life.  Every day was and still is a celebration. Trying to think of a way to further lobby for the support of transplants and donors, I decided reach out to Kathy Ritvo. I wanted to share how her inspiring story of survival and success had been such an important part of the toughest days of my father’s life. And so began a friendship that lead to an experience and memories we will never forget.


During the 2012 Breeders’ Cup my dad and I had tried to meet up with Mrs. Ritvo as well as Mucho Macho Man’s owners Dean and Patti Reeves at Santa Anita. Unfortunately, the chaos of the weekend ultimately had the last word, and my father and I were unable to meet and thank them for their untold inspiration. However, Mrs. Ritvo and Mrs. Reeves were not willing to give up on us so easily. They reached out and proposed the idea of coming to South Florida for the Eclipse Awards. We later found out that Mucho Macho Man would be running in the Sunshine Millions Classic for a second consecutive year, further adding to the excitement of the weekend.


After making travel arrangements and getting clearance from my dad’s doctors, we took off for Gulfstream. We were so nervous to meet the people that had demonstrated such kindness to go out of their way to ensure we had a memorable weekend. During our three days at Gulfstream, we were able to meet with Mrs. Ritvo, as well as the Reeves team. Getting to watch and listen to my dad and Mrs. Ritvo exchange stories of their transplants, their conditions prior to receiving the new heart and the euphoria they experienced after surgery was extremely emotional.


I was amazed by the hospitality of people we had never met, and as fans, my father and I got to experience a part of racing we had never seen before. We were able to meet jockeys, grounds staff, and of course, some wonderful horses. Words cannot express the gratitude that we have for the experience, and also the symbolism of what it meant to us.


Going into the Saturday’s Sunshine Millions Classic, we were floating on one of the highest of highs. We were simply radiating confidence in our beloved Mucho Macho Man. As he was eased in the stretch my heart sank to my feet and instantly fearing the worst for the horse. But even more so, we could not help but feel sadness and disappointment for Mrs. Ritvo, and Mr. and Mrs. Reeves. I have not seen my dad so pale since before his new heart arrived. We were devastated. In the 1:49 seconds it took for Ron the Greek to win the race, we had sunk to the lowest of lows.


After learning the horse was OK, there was a level of relief in that he would be back to race another day, but still we were sulking. It was a rough night of sleep for both of us, and as we were checking in to fly back to California, we finally began to come around. We realized that there is so much more to this sport than winning. It is the people that make up the industry. It is the horses that connect us and bring us to the highest of highs. It is the stories that inspire us during the lowest of lows. It is the relationships that are forged and celebrated in the most remarkable of circumstances.


For anyone interested in learning more about cardiomyopathyheart transplants or becoming an organ donor, please click on the attached links 


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Older Comments about A Weekend to Remember...

what an awesome and lovely story. There are some wonderful people in this industry. Thank you for sharing because this is truly amazing!
Absolutely amazing and wonderful. There are some very wonderful people in the industry who go beyond what is expected.
Truly incredible story - thank you for sharing!!
What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing this!
I think youre a wise fan, you describe the real meaning of racing perfectly! Mucho Macho Man is a unique horse, he gives me a lot of joy too.
A great story, and even greater was the time I got to spend with both of you ... Thank you, both!
Thank you for sharing this nice personal story with us, Matt.
Thank you for the nice words everyone. Ashley and Matt Shiffman (aka Andy Scoggin), it was great to be able to hang out with you guys! We definitely have to do that again soon
Matt, it was great meeting your Dad and hanging out with you guys this weekend. Thanks for arranging an amazing lunch at Gulfstream. Your Dad is now part of the HRN family, too.
Great story, Matt & I hope your father continues to get healthier by the day.
Thank you for sharing your father's moving story. Truly inspirational!
Great blog, Matt! It was fantastic to meet both you and your father this weekend! Great weekend (aside from the MMM loss).
And best wishes to your father.
be a favourite. (bloody miserable little spaces for typing)
bit more time than most to come into his own than many others. My Derby pick (first) so will always
Agree with yukichan and rafirox. MMM himself was born so late, June 15 and looked to be dead, plus he's big and needs a
Fantastic blog. Maybe even the best I have read on this site. Hope your father continues to remain in good health. Great story!
Best blog/story I've read in many, many months. Thank you for the gentle reminder of the many inspiring people and horses that make up the industry. Best wishes for continued good health for your father. A reminder to all to consider being a organ donor....

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