LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There has been no more compelling story at this year’s Kentucky Derby than that of Mucho Macho Man, whose trainer Kathy Ritvo is a heart-transplant survivor and whose former rider, Eibar Coa, has made a remarkable recovery since being left temporarily paralyzed from a riding mishap at Gulfstream Park.
The man who owns the majority interest in Mucho Macho Man, Dean Reeves, has made news of his own during this remarkable run. First by his magnanimous gesture of presenting the injured Coa with a check for $18,000, equal to the rider’s share of the purse for Mucho Macho Man’s victory this winter in the Risen Star Stakes, and for his efforts to use his horse’s notoriety to promote the growing movement to legalize Thoroughbred racing in his native Georgia.
The fact that Reeves and his wife Patti even came to own Mucho Macho Man is a pretty good story of its own.
“Tim Ritvo, who was training for me at the time, told me to watch the replay of a 2-year-old maiden race at Calder last July because we had the opportunity to buy the winner Gourmet Dinner,” Reeves recalled. “After watching the tape, I told Tim he might think I was crazy but I liked the second-place horse even better.”
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The runner-up that day was Mucho Macho Man, who was owned by James Culver’s Dream Team Racing and trained by Bill White.
“Tim called Bill and found out the horse was for sale but that they had six other offers on the table,” Reeves said. “By the next day, I had talked to Jim and we had cut a deal for me to buy 70 percent.”
Mucho Macho Man finished third at Saratoga in his first start for Reeves, after which Ritvo took him to Monmouth Park to try two turns.
“I told Tim we needed a rider with some maturity, so he suggested Eibar,” Reeves said. “He came down from New York to work the horse and said afterwards that this was his Derby horse. He did a really nice job with him, he’s a hands-on rider and was able to teach our young horse things he needed to learn. Even after he was injured, I always considered him a part of our team.”
Coa’s spill took place Feb. 18, the day before he was to ride Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star. Rajiv Maragh replaced the injured Coa, guiding him to a 1 1/2-length victory.
“After the Risen Star, I got to thinking how Eibar had put so much time into the horse and suggested to my wife that he deserved his share of the purse, and she agreed,” Reeves said. “It’s just amazing he was able to walk out of the hospital. It was a blessing from God.”
Reeves, 59, and his wife Patti, 51, also have taken advantage of Mucho Macho Man’s appealing story to promote the cause to legalize racing in their home state.
“The timing was perfect, having a horse on the Derby trail just as we got involved with the movement to legalize horse racing in Georgia,” Reeves said. “We looked for a way to put our horse out there and create a fan base for our cause. Since Patti is in the media business, she was able to get a friend to put up a billboard that said ‘Mucho Macho Man, your hometown horse in the Kentucky Derby.’
“The next thing we knew, other billboard companies had jumped in and before long, we had 10 billboards spreading the message.”
Reeves has encouraged the media and racing fans alike to visit Mucho Macho Man in Barn 41 at Churchill.
“The number of fans Kathy’s story and Eibar’s story have created is great for racing, and anything we can do to promote the sport is fantastic,” Reeves said. “I wouldn’t mind if thousands of people came by the barn as long as they don’t bother Kathy. We’re all here for the fun and enjoyment. Win, lose, or draw, I wouldn’t trade my position for anything. The next few days will be nerve-racking. Right now, I just want to take that walk over with him to the paddock and get him to the gate. I don’t know what I’d do if he won. You’ll probably have to pick me up off the floor.”