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Mucho Macho Man now a champion, Suwanee couple fights to bring horse racing to Ga.

Mucho Macho Man, top, is a thoroughbred racehorse owned by Dean and Patti Reeves of Suwanee. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November by one-tenth of a second. (Special photo)

Mucho Macho Man, top, is a thoroughbred racehorse owned by Dean and Patti Reeves of Suwanee. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November by one-tenth of a second. (Special photo)

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Suwanee residents Patti and Dean Reeves, center and top right, accept awards after their horse, Mucho Macho Man, won November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic in Santa Anita, Calif. (Special photo)

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Jockey Gary Stevens waves to the crowd after winning November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic atop Mucho Macho Man, owned by Suwanee residents Dean and Patti Reeves. (Special photo)

SUWANEE — Patti Reeves calls it God’s Grace by a Nose.

“I have a theory that after being second last year, I feel like God let us win it this year — but only by this much, to remind us of how much we need him, and that it was never a given,” the Suwanee woman says, tearing up.

On Nov. 2 in Santa Anita, Calif., the horse known as Mucho Macho Man won the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic by the proverbial nose, besting the aptly named Will Take Charge by roughly one-tenth of a second. Gwinnett’s representative in the thoroughbred racing world took the $5 million prize.

“For us to reach that kind of pinnacle of horse racing, for a couple in Suwanee, Ga., that on a lark got into the horse racing business, it’s just incredible,” Dean Reeves says.

At an age when many champions are long-since retired and put out to stud, Mucho Macho Man will return for next year’s campaign. The most important work ahead for the Reeveses, though, will take place far from their stable in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and won’t involve the help of Kathy Ritvo, now the first female trainer to win the aforementioned Breeder’s Cup Classic.

The Reeveses are trying to bring horse racing to Georgia, and the 2014 legislative session will be the start of the home stretch.

As founders of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, Dean and Patti are leading the push to bring their sport — which they fell in love with only semi-recently — to Georgia. Over the last year-plus, they’ve commissioned studies and attempted to educate the public about the possible benefits of bringing horse racing to their home state, where it’s currently prohibited.

The coalition asserts that the industry could bring Georgia as much as $75 million annually in tax revenue alone, as well as creating 15,000 jobs. With an accompanying surge in tourism, agricultural growth and peripheral business opportunities, the Reeves believe horse racing could mean nearly $1 billion worth of economic impact.

Dean Reeves met with Gov. Nathan Deal recently and said he has spoken with Sen. David Ralston, the speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, about the issue on two separate occasions.

Spokeswoman Sasha Dlugolenski, however, said the idea “would not be a part of the governor’s agenda.”

“Gov. Deal meets with many Georgians who have ideas for economic development, as creating jobs is his No. 1 priority,” she said. “The governor believes that this would require a constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of a supermajority of the General Assembly to put the issue on the ballot for Georgians to decide.”

According to their coalition’s study, 72 percent of Georgians would vote in favor of horse racing. In a 2012 referendum question on Georgia’s Republican primary ballots, the results were almost exactly 50-50 for and against casino gambling. The non-binding vote was in response to a casino then proposed for a site just off Interstate 85 in Norcross.

Dean Reeves, who owns and operates a construction company, said several unnamed state senators were “big allies” for the cause.

“We’ve really had a positive response,” he said. “Whether they would stand on the street and carry the flag for us, I don’t know. But I think as we work toward this and get into the (legislative) sessions in 2014, we’ll get some idea of what the opposition is.”

Reeves was speaking of opposition in terms of specific people; he knows well what the primary battle cry will be for those against horse racing.

The old-timey image of drunks and seedy degenerate gamblers losing paychecks at the track is one inextricably tied to horse racing, and will surely be the origin of the greatest pushback in the Reeveses’ mission. Unfairly so, the couple said.

Dean Reeves said that, thanks to the rise of the Internet, only about 6 percent of wagers are now placed at the actual race site. In places like New York and Florida, something like 84 percent of the money wagered actually comes from out of state.

The term, advocates say, is not gambling, but “parimutuel wagering.”

“True gambling is buying a lottery ticket and getting a number that you have no control over and potentially winning,” Patti Reeves said.

The Georgia Horse Racing Coalition has been making its pitch for more than a year now, but will step it up once the new legislative session begins next month — fundraisers will be held and the Reeveses will attempt to increase their volunteer base while “educating” key decision-makers.

Suwanee’s horse racing advocates said, if approved, everything would be privately funded. The couple left wiggle room for other groups to get involved, but said they would likely form some kind of LLC to build and run a facility, which would need around 300 acres and preferably be stationed somewhere just outside of Atlanta near Interstate 285.

The platform will officially be taken to the state legislature during the 2015 session.

“We’re hopeful that the politicians will look at this as what it will do for the state and for their communities, in terms of revenue and jobs, what it could do for the HOPE scholarship, and possibly transportation,” Dean Reeves said, “and vote yes when this comes to a vote.”

Helping with the effort will be the continuing career of Mucho Macho Man. The horse has a healthy following on social media and has only grown in popularity since his third-place finish in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Just this week, he received the Secretariat “Voice of the People” Award, given to “the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for thoroughbred racing.”

The Reeveses have a number of young horses they’re hoping for a lot from, including a 2-year-old filly named Ally Ally In Come Free.

When making their pitch, though, it won’t hurt to have a champion still in the race — even if only by a nose.

“We watch the race about once a week,” Pattie Reeves said. “And it’s still exciting every time.”