01/08/2014 1:17PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Mucho Macho Man



                                                                photo by: Justin N. Lane

It’s hard to believe that there could be more to Mucho Macho Man than meets the eye. He’s a beast, as tall as a wall, with legs that could double as circus stilts. When he puts it all in gear, as he did in two glorious performances late in the 2013 season, he is a sight to behold. And even though he lost his other three appearances of the campaign, he was an obvious choice to end up among the three finalists for an Eclipse Award as champion older male. In essence, Mucho Macho Man had only half a season with which to impress Eclipse Award voters. Way back in January, he seemed primed and ready to defend his crown in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, which would be Mucho Macho Man’s first start since narrowly losing the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic to Fort Larned. Horseplayers agreed and made him 2-5. Then something went awry, and the big horse essentially pulled himself up midway through the race. The first reaction was to blame the sloppy racetrack. But his trainer, Kathy Ritvo, was not satisfied with the easy answer.

In short order she discovered that Mucho Macho Man was suffering from a respiratory virus. The mystery was solved, but time refused to stand still. While other members of a highly competitive older male division staked their claims in major main-track events, Mucho Macho Man languished in the peace and quiet of Maryland’s Fair Hill Training Center. To her credit, Ritvo refused to send her horse back to serious work until she was 100 percent happy with his health. On June 14, in the overnight Criminal Type Stakes at Belmont Park, Mucho Macho Man’s 2013 season began anew. He finished third, but it was a third upon which Ritvo could build. When Mucho Macho Man ran an even better third to superior company in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, his people began plotting for the big one that got away a year earlier – the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park.

In a move that will go down as one of those answers to the question “What do trainers really do?” the East Coast-based Ritvo decided to attack the Breeders’ Cup by way of the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. Ritvo and the Mucho Macho Man team, led by owners Dean and Patti Reeves, also added the high-flying Gary Stevens to the mix, figuring their horse would not care if the jockey was 50 years old and had not competed for an entire season since 2005. The result was a 4 1/2-length victory that put Mucho Macho Man in the thick of the conversation for the Classic. He continued to train like a monster at Santa Anita, and he ran to that training on the big day.

Made a firm second choice to Game On Dude, Mucho Macho Man spurted away from the field deep in the stretch and held on to beat Travers winner Will Take Charge by a nose, with Ireland’s classy Declaration of War sandwiched between them at the end of 1 1/4 miles. The Classic could have propelled Mucho Macho Man into a stallion career, but instead his owners have decided to keep him racing in 2014. As noted, the main track division of 2013 was deep and satisfying.

While Game On Dude was winning practically everything in California and Mucho Macho Man came on strong at the end, Flat Out won the Cigar Mile, the Suburban, and the Westchester. Cross Traffic took the Whitney and lost heartbreakers in the Westchester and the Met Mile. Ron the Greek won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Graydar was brilliant in the Donn, the Kelso, and the New Orleans Handicap.