By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES, Nov 3 (Reuters) - A day after Mucho Macho Man charged to a heart-stopping win at the Breeders' Cup Classic, his trainer Kathy Ritvo said she could finally watch the video footage of his runner-up finish in the same race last year.
Twelve months ago, Mucho Macho Man had to settle for second place, just half a length behind surprise winner Fort Larned, after very nearly taking the lead with a storming run down the home straight at Santa Anita Park.
On Saturday, that disappointment was erased in gripping fashion as the five-year-old horse, piloted by veteran Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, held off a late surge by Will Take Charge to win North America's richest horse race by a nose.
"Now that he won, I can re-watch last year," Ritvo told reporters at Santa Anita Park on Sunday. "I haven't watched it in almost a year. I watch it up to the quarter pole, then I have to start the race over again.
"I was really happy with his effort last year, but this year was great for him to come back and win. To have a second and a win in the Breeders' Cup, it shows it was no fluke. He's a good horse."
Ritvo, who had a heart transplant five years ago, was still coming to terms with the fact that she had become the first female trainer to win the $5 million Classic at the Breeders' Cup, billed as the world championships of thoroughbred racing.
"How about that? I hope I'm the first of many," smiled the 44-year-old mother of two, who waited six months for a new heart in 2008. "With the heart transplant and having a second chance, it's an amazing thing.
"Selfless people donated their loved one's organs to give me a second chance, and to be in this place, it's hard to come up with words."
The diminutive Ritvo was thrust squarely into the national spotlight two years ago when Mucho Macho Man competed in all three U.S. Triple Crown races, his best finish a third place in the Kentucky Derby.
Now that Mucho Macho Man has embellished his already impressive credentials by winning one of the world's richest horse races, as the 4-1 second choice, Ritvo has been swamped with congratulatory phone calls and text messages.
"The calls have been unbelievable," said the 4ft 11in (1.5m)-tall trainer. "We're very grateful to be here. I'm very blessed to be here.
"I wouldn't be here without my donor family. Without my family, I wouldn't be here. Without Finn (Green) managing the horse, I wouldn't be here.
"Without my team - Nicky (Petro) galloping the horse every day and my assistants and all my help, I wouldn't be here. It's been a team effort."
Mucho Macho Man spent Sunday morning grazing on a patch of grass outside Barn 126 at Santa Anita Park and will return to his home base at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida on Tuesday.
Beyond that, his connections are considering running him next March in the world's richest horse race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, as long as he stays in training. And that is based on "economic factors", the connections have said.
"We had no doubts. We had faith in the horse. He was showing us all the right signs that he wanted to continue training," said Ritvo. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)
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- Santa Anita Park
- Kathy Ritvo