- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2011

BALTIMORE — At the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course, there aren’t a lot of name tags. Without intimate familiarity it’s sometimes hard to pick out which people are involved with different horses.

Kathy Ritvo is the exception. For one, she’s the only female trainer at the Preakness, and her horse, Mucho Macho Man, towers over her.

“[I’m] 5 feet,” she said, looking at the lift on her shoes. “I’m gonna stick with that.”

Meanwhile, Mucho Macho Man — big at over 17 hands — has actually gained weight since the Kentucky Derby.

“You can tell by the girth and you can tell when you put the bridle on — we’re pretty much on the last hole,” Ritvo said. “This horse is just getting big.”

Mucho Macho Man is a June 15 foal, so he’s not even 3 years old officially. Eating three times a day, there’s room for him to get even bigger and taller.

“I hope not too much taller,” Ritvo said. “Look at me, it’s hard to put the tack on him.”

But in terms of courage and story, Ritvo is a giant. Two and a half years ago she received a heart transplant and at every turn this week has worn a smile and talked about how happy she is just to be on the Triple Crown trail.

“It makes me appreciate every day,” she said Thursday. “I don’t believe anyone will enjoy this experience any more than me.”

With Dialed In racing for $6.1 million, Mucho Macho Man co-owner Dean Reeves was asked what he’d do if his horse won that money.

“I’d give it all to Kathy,” he joked as Ritvo walked around a few feet away.

“We couldn’t have any more fun than we’re already having,” Ritvo replied.

She would also pick up another big distinction if Mucho Macho Man crosses the wire first at about 6:30 Saturday evening.

“What would it mean? Oh my goodness. It would mean that I’m the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby. I’m sorry, I lost my mind, the Preakness,” she said.

If it doesn’t work out at Pimlico — and especially if it does — expect Ritvo and Mucho Macho Man to go back to Belmont Park and get ready for the third race of the Triple Crown.

By then, Ritvo’s height will pale in comparison to her horse’s even more, but her courageous story will more than make up for it.

Notes: Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is expected to board a van at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., at around 5 a.m. EST or shortly after Saturday morning with other Graham Motion horses. The trainer himself isn’t set to arrive until later on Preakness day. …

Nick Zito, who trains Dialed In, said the $6.1 million prize for winning the Holy Bull Stakes, Florida Derby and Preakness was something of a factor in him running Saturday but also pointed out that he and owners have already pledged a lot of that to charity.

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