11/03/2012 10:09PM

Breeders’ Cup Classic: Mucho Macho Man’s connections upbeat after runner-up finish

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mike Smith rode Mucho Macho Man to a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Mucho Macho Man may have finished second to Fort Larned in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he was still a winner in the minds of trainer Kathy Ritvo and jockey Mike Smith.

“Honesty, he [Mucho Macho Man] won, I just didn’t finish first, if that’s possible,” said Smith, who fell a half-length short of sweeping the two main events at the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. Smith won the Ladies’ Classic aboard Royal Delta the previous afternoon.

The Classic capped what has been an outstanding, but at times frustrating, season for Mucho Macho Man and Ritvo who has done a remarkable job maintaining her horse’s form throughout a strategically planned campaign that began in January at Gulfstream Park and also included a similarly game, but heartbreaking, setback at the hands of To Honor and Serve nine weeks earlier at Saratoga in the Grade 1 Woodward.

“I’m not disappointed, because he ran a winning race, he just got beat today,” said Ritvo, who returned to training during winter 2010 after having undergone a heart transplant the previous spring. “I think this was probably the best race he’s ever run. He showed me all week he was going to run a big race. He was nice and relaxed, acclimated perfectly, and was training super. I think he gave us 110 percent. Not only today, but all year.”

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Saturday results and video replays]

The Classic completed a roller-coaster weekend for Smith and is part of a year in which he finished second in all three legs of the Triple Crown and won his 5,000 career race. He also became the winningest jockey in Breeders’ Cup history after riding Royal Delta to victory on Friday. Smith won his 17th Breeders’ Cup race earlier on Saturday’s card aboard Mizdirection in the Turf Sprint.

“I wanted to win this race for Kathy so bad, more than for myself to be honest with you,” said Smith who picked up the mount on Mucho Macho Man midway through the season.  “The difference today was Fort Larned has a little quicker turn of foot. He kind of sucked away from me on the turn, I couldn’t quite stay with him at that point. I waited for Game On Dude to  push me, kind of like a draft, I thought it was enough to get by him. I just wish I could have had him on my outside a little longer, it might have pushed me by. It just didn’t happen today.”

Smith said that despite narrowly missing in the Classic, the 2012 Breeders’ Cup was a memorable one.

“It was an incredible weekend,” Smith said. “I knew we had some really good horses, and there’s something about Breeders’ Cup. I don’t care if I’m 8-5 or 60-1, something just makes me rise to the occasion.”