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Mucho Macho Man and trainer Kathy Ritvi, a heart transplant recipient, have grown stronger together over his three-year career. The 4-year-old will contest the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

ARCADIA, Calif. – What is in a name? Everything, when it comes to Mucho Macho Man.

His odds for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) may read 8-1, but his record points to one tough horse. In an era when it has become a rarity to compete in all three Triple Crown races, the June foal has prospered since withstanding the rigors of the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) last year. Since he was bumped early in the Belmont and finished a disappointing seventh, he rattled off three consecutive victories, ran third in the Alysheba Stakes (G2), was a handy 2 ½-length winner in the Suburban  Handicap (G2) and made a gallant charge in the Woodward Stakes (G1) on Sept. 1 only to be carried out late and miss by a neck against fellow Classic starter To Honor and Serve.

In 20 career starts, the bay son of Macho Uno owns six victories, four runner-up finishes and four third-place finishes for earnings of $1,456,410. Mucho macho, indeed.

Although the Florida-bred ran third in the Kentucky Derby, sixth in the Preakness, and a notch below that in the Belmont, trainer Kathy Ritvo expresses no regrets about putting him through the Triple Crown grind of three races in five weeks.

“He was doing so well at the time that we decided to give him a chance,” she said.

The key decision after that involved giving the youngster all of the time he needed to recover, a credit to the patience of owner Dean Reeves, before he was brought back in an allowance race at Aqueduct five months after the Belmont.

“We gave him some time to mature and grow and he came back and started off right,” Ritvo said. “Since then, he hasn’t missed a beat.”

Planning schedules for most horses can be a monumental waste of time. Not in this case. Ritvo met with Finn Green, Reeves’ racing manager, last November to plot a course that would lead to the Classic. He never missed a date.

Mucho Macho Man is so good so often that Ritvo finds herself at a loss for words to convey the qualities that lead to such consistency.

“I can’t describe it because I never had a horse like him,” said Ritvo, who oversees a small, but solid string of 15 horses at Gulfstream Park.

She noted that the biggest difference in her colt from age three to four involves the mental aspect. Quite simply, he learned what it means to win.

“He can’t go any better than he is now,” she said. “He’s a true professional.”

The only real question would seem to involve whether Mucho Macho Man can get the Classic distance of a mile and a quarter for jockey Mike Smith. His lone try occurred when he finished third, three lengths in back of triumphant Animal Kingdom, in the Derby.

“I don’t think it will be a problem to get it,” his trainer said. “He has a huge stride and is very kind to rate.”

Heart alone can make the difference and Mucho Macho Man rivals the courage of Ritvo, who was once desperately ill with heart disease. On Nov. 13, the transplant recipient will celebrate her fourth anniversary with her new heart. How fitting it would be for her to note that milestone as trainer of a Classic champion? 

Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 3 8:30 PM EDT
Post Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Pool Play Miguel Mena Mark Casse 30-1
2 Flat Out Joel Rosario William Mott 5-1
3 Alpha Ramon Dominguez Kiaran McLaughlin 20-1
4 Fort Larned Brian Hernandez, Jr. Ian Wilkes 5-1
5 Game On Dude Rafael Bejarano Bob Baffert 9-5
6 Brilliant Speed Junior Alvarado Thomas Albertrani 20-1
7 Handsome Mike Mario Guttierrez Doug O'Neill 30-1
8 Nonios Martin Pedroza Jerry Hollendorfer 20-1
9 Richard's Kid Garrett Gomez Doug O'Neill 12-1
10 Ron the Greek Jose Lezcano William Mott 6-1
11 Mucho Macho Man Mike Smith Kathy Ritvo 8-1
12 To Honor and Serve John Velazquez William Mott 8-1

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