BALTIMORE (AP) — The relationship that trainer Kathy Ritvo has with Mucho Macho Man goes well beyond arranging a workout schedule, loading up the barn with hay and slapping on the saddle before a big race.
“The worst thing I probably could do to that horse is move him to another trainer,” Mucho Macho Man owner Dean Reeves said Wednesday. “They are perfect for one another. She’s the kind of trainer this horse needs. She’s shown how she can prepare him, and keep him healthy and fit. She’s done an incredible job, and the horse loves her.
“I really believe they talk to each other. She sees and knows things with this horse before anybody else sees it.”
Mucho Macho Man came in third in the Kentucky Derby, and at 6-1 is third on the board in Saturday’s Preakness behind Derby winner Animal Kingdom (2-1) and Dialed In (9-2).
A full field of 14 horses are ready to run for the first time since 2005.
No matter what happens in the days leading up to the race, nothing will ruin the feel-good feeling Ritvo brought to Pimlico Race Course this week.
Upon her arrival at the track, Ritvo had to deal with a driving rain as she guided Mucho Macho Man into his stall.
She did it with a smile.
Even though Mucho Macho Man isn’t known as a mudder, Ritvo won’t care if it rains Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s going to bother him at all,” she said, cheerfully.
Post position wasn’t a concern, either.
“Hopefully, he can do good in any situation,” Ritvo said, hours before Mucho Macho Man drew the No. 9 post.
The reason for her decidedly upbeat approach is quite understandable: Three years ago, Ritvo received a lifesaving heart transplant. So a little thing like a horse race, even one of the Triple Crown variety, isn’t something to fret about.
“First of all, I’m just excited to get up every day because I had a heart transplant,” the 42-year-old Ritvo said. “Besides that, it’s a dream. To maybe be running in every race of the Triple Crown is amazing. It’s amazing for anybody, never mind me.”
Ritvo didn’t come to Pimlico with a nag. Mucho Macho Man has finished in the money in eight of nine career races and took fourth in the other.
Animal Kingdom was better at Churchill Downs, but Ritvo isn’t intimidated.
“He’s a very nice horse,” Ritvo said of Animal Kingdom, “but we’re going to try to catch him this time.”
And if that doesn’t happen, well, Ritvo will have no problem with packing her horse into a van and regrouping for the Belmont.
“There are no problems anymore,” she said. “If you have your health, there’s really nothing you can’t deal with. Waking up every morning is a win for me. Everything else is just a plus.”
Such as coming in third in the Kentucky Derby.
“It was fantastic. I think I’m still on Cloud 9,” Ritvo said. “I tell you, nobody is going to enjoy this more than me.”
Mucho Macho Man appears to be having a good time, too.
“He’s strong,” Ritvo said. “When we went to the van on Sunday morning after the Derby, he was just feeling so good and had so much energy, so bright-eyed. I think he was ready to go home.”
As she prepared Mucho Macho Man for the trip to Baltimore, she whispered some encouraging words in his ear.
“I told him we’re going to the next leg,” she said, “and we’ve got to get it this time.”
Maybe Reeves was right about trainer and horse talking to each other. He can only hope to be part of the conversation in the winner’s circle on Saturday.
Animal Kingdom, meanwhile, with start from the No. 11 post.
“I would just rather be on the outside than stuck down on the inside. I was a little worried when 1 and 14 were still left,” trainer Graham Motion said. “It would not have been the end of the world, but I much prefer to be in the middle to the outside, where I am.”
Nine new horses will take aim at Animal Kingdom, including the longest shots in the field — Concealed Identity, Isn’t He Perfect and Norman Asbjornson — who are all 30-1.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)