It was almost a year ago that the owners of Mucho Macho Man started trusting the patience of racing manager Finn Green.
He started working for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing the day of the Woodward, the Grade I, $750,000 race for horses 3 and older that Mucho Macho Man will try to win on Saturday.
At that time, Mucho Macho Man was in the middle of a layoff after finishing seventh in the Belmont.
Since that point, the 4-year-old has won five of six starts, the only defeat coming to Successful Dan in the Grade II Alysheba in May. He bounced back to win the Grade II Suburban at Belmont on July 7.
Throughout the last year, Mucho Macho Man has been enjoying short layoffs after almost all his races. With his slow, Southern accent, Green shows this patience is in his blood as he speaks of the importance of those layoffs.
“I think the last 10 to 12 months for the Reeveses have been an experience in patience,” Green said. “For him, he’s benefited from it. For them, they will reap the benefits from allowing that. I’m a fifth-generation horseman, and time has always been an element that was on the forefront of any thought about good horses — giving the horse proper time. So for me, it’s been a part of my DNA.
“It’s incredibly tempting to take an animal who is performing extremely well and you come off a euphoric win, and you go, ‘Let’s do it again, let’s do it again! Right now!’ But I think for an animal his size, the amount of time we’ve allowed him to have between races will be very fruitful for everybody involved. Because if you take care of the horse, the horse will take care of everybody else.”
Green sat down with trainer Kathy Ritvo in November, and they planned out the next year for Mucho Macho Man. If he ever showed signs he needed that plan to be adjusted, they would have changed it. But the horse has been strong and healthy and willing to run.
“Willing to run” actually puts it mildly. He throws more bullets than a Tommy gun.
In his work up to the Suburban, he was fastest of 29 at Belmont over four furlongs in 463⁄5 seconds, then fastest of 37 at Saratoga over four furlongs in 48-flat, then fastest of four at five furlongs in 581⁄5 . He came back from the Suburban with a four-furlong 47-flat, fastest of 37.
He worked five furlongs here in 1:004⁄5 on Aug. 19, then five in 1:024⁄5 on Sunday — on the main track instead of his usual run on the Oklahoma — in his final prep for the Woodward.
“He’s been doing good,” Ritvo said. “He had a work [Sunday] that wasn’t very fast, but the rail was a little hard for him. He’s a big horse, we’re used to training at the Oklahoma track. And he worked with another horse in his last workout before the Suburban. He was by himself [Sunday], so he had a really good maintenance work. He’s ready to run, and we’re excited.”
“Kathy does a great job with this horse. She knows him very well,” Green said. “The jogging and the galloping has put the muscle on his infrastructure that allows him to do those things. It’s a combination of a lot of factors, and he enjoys what he does. He’s very happy, and that’s the main thing with older horses, keeping them happy.”
And he’s kept his connections happy. He’s won three Grade II races and is Grade I placed after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby last year.
In his most recent win, he was under a new jockey, but that made no difference. Ramon Dominguez had ridden him in his previous five races, but was committed to Trickmeister for the Suburban. So Ritvo brought in Mike Smith.
“Mike Smith did a great job on him, fit him perfectly,” she said. “He ran a huge race, gave 100 percent. [Smith] not even having to hit him with the stick was great. He just did it so easy, you know?”
Smith will get the call again Saturday, as Ritvo said it’s just such a great fit.
“When I gave him a leg-up that day, he hopped on him and just gave him a big hug,” Ritvo said. “He’s a great rider, and he’s a horseman. I knew they’d get along, anyway, because he’s ridden those great big horses in the past.”
It’s wins like that which make it a little easier every time to convince the Reeveses to give Mucho Macho Man his short layoff before running him again.
“The conversations have changed. It was very difficult, in the beginning, not to get the horse — after he came out of that race at Aqueduct [an optional claimer] — to run the Clark Handicap at Churchill,” Green said. “That was set up for him, but Kathy and I wanted to wait for the Sunshine Millions. So it has gotten easier. They have begun to have a great deal, I think, of confidence in Kathy and I as a team, with the results.”
Neither trainer nor racing manager will tell what the rest of the plan is for Mucho Macho Man, but Green said they are about five-sevenths of the way through the plan and haven’t had to deviate from it.
Even without the blueprint, it’s easy to see the final product, the horse Ritvo has been building with the help of Green. The time they’ve allowed him has grown him into one of the nation’s best racers.
“The main thing was to give the horse time to mature. His adolescence has ceased,” Green said. “He’s turned the corner. He’s doing a lot of growing between races, and we thought he would. He’s settled into himself now, and he’s doing very well. Our hopes are just that he continues to move forward.”