Photo: Amber Chalfin. Mucho Macho Man goes for a workout in preparation for the 137th Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The post position draw for the 137th Kentucky Derby came and went in Louisville on Wednesday night, and Mucho Macho Man found himself saddled with No. 13.
It’s not a particularly ominous position in a full 20-horse field for Saturday’s Derby — too close to the post and you’ll get boxed in, too far to the outside and you’ve got farther to run.
But for the 3-year-old colt owned by Suwanee’s Dean and Patti Reeves, the traditionally negative number seemed to fit.
“It finally struck me that we’re really here, we’re really a part of this group,” Dean Reeves said during a phone interview after the draw.
“All of the ups and downs that we’ve had along the way, and it’s finally coming together.”
In the early months of 2008, the horse now known as Mucho Macho Man was born in Ocala, Fla. Disappointed, the barn manager called the farm’s owner — the horse was lying there motionless, stillborn.
Shortly thereafter, though, he simply stood up, not sure what the big deal was about. In one of the Reeves’ favorite stories to tell, he was soon dubbed “Lazarus” by staff there.
Later that year, trainer Kathy Ritvo was dying in her own right.
Suffering from cardiomyopathy, a deterioration of the heart muscle, Ritvo was in dire need of a transplant. She ultimately got one, in November 2008.
Healthy, she took over full-time training of Mucho Macho Man from her husband in October.
“Every single day that passes by, you’re grateful,” said Ritvo, who has a chance to be the first female trainer to work with a Derby-winning horse.
In February, less than three months from Saturday evening’s Kentucky Derby, jockey Eibar Coa, who had been working with the Reeves’ colt all along, fell off another horse while training at Gulfstream Park in Florida.
He fractured the C-4 vertebra in his neck, and is in the process of re-learning how to walk.
Jockey Rajiv Maragh will now ride Mucho Macho Man at Churchill Downs.
“It just really brings me back full circle,” Patti Reeves said this week, “to say that the whole thing is a bigger plan, and we’re just part of it.”
This week, the plan has meant a whole new world of experiences for the Reeves, who got into thoroughbred racing just a handful of years ago after successful careers in contracting and marketing.
Up each morning and at the barn by 7:30 a.m., the Reeves visit with Ritvo, Maragh and Mucho Macho Man, amid a sea of photographers and journalists.
“Each horse has its own private security guard,” Pattie Reeves said with a laugh. “And they need it. There’s horse paparazzi.”
Each day has brought growing anticipation and anxiety from the Suwanee couple.
The tradition beginning while he was in college at Georgia Tech, Dean Reeves went to the Kentucky Derby every year for the better part of two decades. Once he got into horse racing, the goal was to go back to Louisville — this time, as an owner.
It’s happening, and with Mucho Macho Man listed with 12-to-1 odds to run for the roses.
“You spend most of the day on pins and needles, hoping that something doesn’t happen,” he said.
Added Patti: “It’s such a thrill, every morning I get teared up. Just talking about it I could cry. It’s overwhelming to be a part of this, win or lose.”
Superstition aside, the Reeves are actually thrilled about MMM’s post position at No. 13. Two of the Derby’s favorites coming in, Uncle Mo and Nehro, drew less favorable spots at 18 and 19, respectively.
Four-to-1 favorite Dialed In drew the No. 8 post.
Patti Reeves said she’s “run the race over and over (in her head) and finished in every possible position.” Her husband hasn’t allowed himself to ponder the possibility of actually winning.
“If he’s good enough to win, then he’ll win it,” he said. “I just wanted that opportunity and I’m going to be happy if he has a good, safe race.”
“We’re here thinking we can win the race, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time really even thinking about it.”
Ritvo said Mucho Macho Man has adjusted well to the cold, rainy conditions in the shadow of Churchill Downs’ twin spires, and expects him to run well come Saturday at 6:24 p.m.
“It will be great. I can’t wait,” Ritvo said. “I think we have a good chance.”
Knowing the history surrounding the horse, it would be a wise decision not to bet against them.
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