Kathy Ritvo’s story is old news. But the human interest angle never dies. With apologies to Audie Murphy, Kathy Ritvo has been to hell and back. When she says she’s just happy to be here, she really means it.
The heart transplant operation to save her life on Nov. 13, 2008 at the age of 39 and the storylines that ensued have been well documented by the media, who instantly embraced Ritvo and her against-all-odds saga that’s warmed the hearts of thousands of fans and racetrackers nationwide.
Suffering from what was diagnosed as cardiomyopathy, doctors told her that without the surgery, her chances of survival were nil.
Fast forward to September, 2013. Ritvo, short, blonde and a lover of Thoroughbreds, stands outside Barn 126 at Santa Anita, a four-month-old, four-pound King Charles Cavalier Spaniel pup named Oliver cradled so softly in the crook of her left arm, it sleeps contentedly. Ever caring, Ritvo is still. She doesn’t want to see Oliver twist.
A few feet away grazing on a patch of green grass is the horse she trains, Mucho Macho Man, at 17 hands a giant commanded by a woman Lilliputian in length but Amazonian in breadth.
Mucho Macho Man is being readied for the Awesome Again Stakes, one of five Grade I prep races at Santa Anita this Saturday that could lead to a spot in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 1 and 2. A good showing will land Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Classic, in which he was second to Fort Larned in last year’s edition at Santa Anita.
“We got here on Sept. 9 and Macho’s settled in really well,” Ritvo said. “He’s been training great,” the words coming within earshot of Finn Green, the Racing Manager for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, which owns Mucho Macho Man.
“He’s an easy horse to deal with,” said Green, whose real first name is Jonathan. “When we were young, my brother Chris couldn’t say Jonathan, only the last syllable, which he pronounced ‘Finn.’ I’ve been called that ever since.
“Macho pretty much does what he wants when he wants. He eats when he eats, he works when he works and he sleeps when he sleeps. He’s not distracted.”
Added Ritvo: “He’s really smart. He’s confident and loves to train.” His final major drill for the Awesome Again came Saturday, a five furlong move on Santa Anita’s main track in 1:01.
Ritvo got her training license at 18 and began her career at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass. “My husband, Tim, was training Macho before I did,” Ritvo said. “The horse ran a great race in the Classic last year (losing by a half-length after pushing Fort Larned the length of the stretch). We had a really good year.”
Tim, now president of Gulfstream Park, which, like Santa Anita, is owned by Frank Stronach, met Kathy at Suffolk Downs when he was 19 and she was 16. He took her to her senior prom and they were married on Aug. 5, 1990.
They’ve held true to their vows “for better or worse” and hope their rocky road is behind them.
Mucho Macho Man, who will be ridden by Gary Stevens in the Awesome Again, has six wins, five seconds and six thirds from 21 starts, and earnings of $2,440,410.
When it comes to heart, Mucho Macho Man’s is bigger than Kathy’s.
But for Team Macho, one size fits all.

If there were a vote for most popular jockey ever to ride in Southern California, it might be a dead-heat between Laffit Pincay Jr. and Eddie Delahoussaye. Horsemen and fans alike were enamored with their blue collar work ethic and low-profile persona.
Long retired due to injuries, each still dots the Southern California racing landscape, Delahoussaye primarily as a bloodstock agent and consultant. He will be front and center at Santa Anita Friday when he presents the trophy to the winning connections of a race named for him, the Grade III Eddie D. Stakes.
“It’s an honor,” said Delahoussaye, now 62 and retired for 11 years since suffering a concussion in a spill at Del Mar on Aug. 30, 2002. “At least I’ll be remembered. Hopefully, they’ll keep it going for many more years.
“Like I said last year, I’m glad they named it before I died. At least I’m here to enjoy it.”
While Pincay has no race named for him at Santa Anita, there is a bust of him adjacent to the walking ring, along with other racing greats, including Chris McCarron.
“I think if McCarron were out here, they’d name a race for him, too,” Delahoussaye said of his former peer and fellow Hall of Famer, who now resides in Kentucky where he is executive director of the North American Racing Academy in Lexington.
“I didn’t want one of those,” Delahoussaye said in jest about the statute. “Birds just poop on it. I didn’t want that. I tease McCarron about that all the time.”
Delahoussaye, who retired with 6,384 career wins and purse earnings of $195,884,940, keeps busy with consulting work and yearling sales. “It gives me something to do, and I do a little PR work for Santa Anita,” he said. “I do what I can to get more people involved in racing.”

As he turns 24 on Jan. 1, 2014, Unusual Heat is still enjoying his days as a paid equine Lothario. Regarded as one of the leading stallions in the history of California Thoroughbred breeding, the son of Nureyev and the grandson of 1964 Kentucky Derby winner and stallion of stallions Northern Dancer, stands at Harris Farms in Coalinga for a stud fee of $20,000.
Barry Abrams, who trains many of Unusual Heat’s progeny, attributes the dark bay’s success in the sack in part due to his late start.
“God willing, he’ll continue another year of making babies for us,” Abrams said, referring to a syndicate headed by prominent California owner/breeder Madeline Auerbach.
“He served 50 mares in 2013 and 45 got in foal,” Abrams said. “We’ll probably keep him at that number this season. Everything looks great. He’s still the best stallion in California. He might be one of the best stallions in North America.
“He started late in life (as a stallion), so maybe that’s why he’s still doing well at his age. He didn’t start at stud as a 4-year-old like most horses; he started when he was nine.”
Unusual Heat was no Man o’ War on the race track, although he was a multiple stakes winner of $143,707, winning six races between the ages of two and six, most notably the 1993 Amethyst Stakes and the 1994 Platinum Stakes. In addition to Abrams, he was trained by Dermot Weld and Richard Mandella.
Abrams has entered Huntsville, a son of Unusual Heat, in Friday’s opening day feature, the Grade III Eddie D. Stakes at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf. The durable longshot will be seeking his first stakes win in this, his 32nd career start.
Claimed for $50,000 by Abrams in July of 2012, Huntsville was third by a length in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 24.
Promising turf sprint winner Lakerville is expected to make his overdue return to the races in the next few months, Abrams said. “He had a setback. Hopefully, we can get him back to the races in February or March.”
Lakerville, a 5-year-old Unusual Heat horse owned by Auerbach, broke his maiden at 20-1 in his debut, coming from 10 lengths back at the half-mile mark to win by nearly two going about 6 ½ furlongs on Santa Anita’s turf Oct. 22, 2011.
In his most recent start, showing his signature out-of-the-clouds stretch kick, he was beaten a nose in the Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 15, 2012.
The field for the Eddie D., race eight of nine: Et Tu Walker, Agapito Delgadillo; Huntsville, Erick Lopez; Caracortado, Felipe Martinez; Boat Trip, Garrett Gomez; defending champ Unbridled’s Note, Corey Nakatani; Rock Me Baby, Edwin Maldonado; Chips All In, Julien Leparoux; Koast, Victor Espinoza; Rosengold, Martin Garcia; Sirocco Strike, Joe Talamo; Snowday, Rafael Bejarano; Majestic City, Gary Stevens; and El Mirage King, Chantal Sutherland-Kruse.

FINISH LINES: Breeders’ Cup Classic candidate Paynter, absent since finishing fifth and last after an eventful trip on a sloppy track in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga on Aug. 31, worked four furlongs in company Tuesday on Santa Anita’s fast main track. The son of Awesome Again went with stablemate Liaison. Each was clocked in 48.20. “He just cruised around there nice and easy,” Bob Baffert said of Paynter, who won the Grade I Haskell Invitational as a 3-year-old last July, then was out for almost a year before overcoming a near-death ailment prior to a miraculous comeback . . . Clubhouse Ride came out his fourth-place finish in the Ralph M. Hinds at Fairplex Park Sunday in good order, but trainer Craig Lewis has no immediate race in mind for the 5-year-old Candy Ride horse. “We’ll wait and see, but he’s only about $2,000 shy of earning a million dollars,” Lewis said, “so we’d like to reach that plateau.” . . . Trainer Doug O’Neill and brother Dennis will miss Saturday’s five Grade I stakes at Santa Anita. “We’ll be in Boston to watch our nephew, Patrick O’Neill, play for Harvard against Brown,” Dennis said. “He’s a defensive halfback. We’ve planned on this trip for a long time. Harvard’s pretty good; it should be a good game.” The brothers hope their travel connections will also allow them to see Private Zone run Saturday in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park. Martin Pedroza has the mount on the crack sprinter trained by Doug for the Good Friends Stable of former jockey and close Pedroza pal Rene Douglas . . . Agent Tony Matos reports jockey Alonso Quinonez is doing well following a spill in the last race at Fairplex Park Saturday. “He’s at home in Glendora with his family,” Matos said. “He walked out of the hospital on his own. It’s
nothing major.” . . . Lookalikes: Doug O’Neill and Ben Roethlisberger.