Animal Kingdom may have won the race, but 41-year old Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, won the day. Ms. Ritvo is the mother of two and was transplanted in the nick of time in November 2008 at Jackson Memorial. Kathy’s wait list experience was filled with treacherous symptoms which finally resulted in living in the hospital connected to life support equipment.
As fate would have it, a heart finally became available in November. She had been in then hospital about six months by that time. For the record, she watched the 2008 Derby from a bed at Jackson Memorial with her cardiologist, who was invited to occupy a set in the trainer’s reserved seating section in Louisville.
Mucho Macho Man finished a strong third in the 137th Run For The Roses. He was the youngest horse in the race and will not turn three until after the Belmont. In his young career, the long and strong thoroughbred has now run in nine races with two first place finishes, three second place finishes and three third place finished.
After a second place finish in a race at Calder, Ritvo and her brother claimed 70 percent of the horse for the owners Dean and Patti Reeves. Had Mucho Macho Man won the Derby, Cathy would have become the first female trainer to win the prestigious event.
Kathy was diagnosed with cardio myopathy or weakness of the heart muscle shortly after losing her third child during a premature delivery. The condition was misdiagnosed twice before the seriousness of the illness was finally discovered. Ritvo had first begun to feel sick in January 2000.
Ritvo received a heart from a donor on November 13th. Mucho Macho Man was five months old at the time. She endures restrictions about handling the horses especially after they have exercised. Kathy was instructed to stay away fro then track and the barns, but horse racing and training is in her blood.
Her father was a legendary trainer who died of heart disease at age 73. She also lost a brother to myopathy of the heart. Her\ husband, Tim, said that there were nights when she went to sleep that he never knew if she would awaken. Tim now says she is the healthiest she has been since the couple met.
On the day of the Derby, Ritvo answered a reporter, “I’m sure there will be a lot of things playing through my head. About how I wouldn’t be standing here without the donor family, wouldn’t be standing here without my family, the Reeveses, the horse, everybody. I’m just blessed to be alive, blessed to have the opportunity to train such a good horse. This is what I’ve worked for my whole life.”
Kathy told CNN, “I’m as tough as they come. But I had suffered so much for so long, even I had gotten to the point where I was prepared to die. When my surgeons examined my heart after the operation, they told me I wouldn’t have lasted much longer. The fact a donor was found at that time was a miracle.”
One of the reasons the Reeves stayed with Kathy as the trainer is that they believed it was destiny that Ritvo and Mucho Macho Man had come together. Patti Reeves is still amazed to see how thoroughly Ritvo cares for the three year old as she meticulously selects every grain and oat the two time winner eats.
“When she came to us she was very, very sick,” said Dr. Joseph Bauerlein, who has been Ritvo’s cardiologist since 2008. “Her symptoms were pretty severe. On the scale of one to four we use to rate the seriousness of a person’s heart disease, with one being the least and four the worst, she was a class 3 or 4. And there was absolutely no doubt at that point she needed a transplant.”
As the youngest horse in the race, Mucho Macho Man finished strongly to earn third place. He may have caught Animal Kingdom with a little more track. The Preakness on May 21st is the shortest of the jewels in the Triple Crown but don’t count Mucho Macho Man out. Like his trainer, Mucho Macho Man gets stronger every day and he likes to finish what he starts. Animal Kingdom won the Derby but Kathy Ritvo did win the day. My money will be on her prized athlete on Preakness day and I intend to double up for the longest leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
My guess is the Reeves had it right. Ritvo and Mucho Macho Man are destined for great things. Way to go, Kathy!