Kathy Ritvo is healthy, the horse she trains is a stakes winner, and the trainer is back home in Florida working on a plan to get Mucho Macho Man to the Kentucky Derby.
A little more than two years after receiving a heart transplant, the 41–year–old trainer says she's never felt better — and having a promising 3–year–old colt is pretty good therapy, too.
"I'm just excited because I've got my health back, and I'm ready to go," said Ritvo, who returned to training horses six months after the lifesaving surgery in November 2008.
Mucho Macho Man was ready to go, too, taking the lead at the top of the stretch and holding off Santiva for a 1�–length victory in the $300,000 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Saturday.
The win — the lanky colt's second in seven starts — moves Mucho Macho Man up three spots to No. 4 in the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders.
The top three remain the same, with unbeaten Uncle Mo at No. 1, followed by To Honor And Serve and Brethren.
Uncle Mo's next start is set for March 12, with To Honor And Serve scheduled to run in Saturday's $400,000 Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Also moving up, to No. 7 from No. 10, is The Factor. The speedy gray colt took the lead early and then held off Sway Away by three–quarters of a length in winning Sunday's 7–furlong, $150,000 San Vicente at Santa Anita.
The Factor is trained by three–time Derby winner Bob Baffert, and was ridden by Martin Garcia, who replaced Rafael Bejarano. A big question is whether The Factor can sustain his speed going the Derby distance of 1� miles.
"It's hard to get a horse like this," Baffert said. "They don't come around very often. He'll benefit from this race."
Ritvo is hoping Mucho Macho Man's final prep will come in the $1 million Florida Derby on April 3, but is keeping her options open. She became the colt's trainer last fall, taking over for her husband, Tim, who took a job with the company that owns Gulfstream.
"I would love to stay home for the Florida Derby," she said, "but we're going to see how he comes back" before making a decision.
Rajiv Maragh was aboard Mucho Macho Man, a last–minute substitute for Eibar Coa, who remains in a hospital with a fractured neck vertebra from a spill at Gulfstream on Friday.
—Soldat, who romped to victory in the slop at Gulfstream last month, moves onto the list at No. 10; Sham Stakes winner Tapizar (No. 9 last week) is off the Derby trail with a bone chip in a knee.
—This weekend's preps are the 1 1/8–mile Fountain of Youth (To Honor And Serve, Dialed In and Soldat top the field) and the 7–furlong Hutcheson, both at Gulfstream; and the 1 1/16th–mile Borderland Derby at Sunland Park.
—The first Derby future wager odds were set Sunday night, with Uncle Mo the top individual entry at 7–2. The mutuel field, or all the nominated 3–year–olds not among the 23 horses with individual odds, is the favorite at 2–1 favorite.
1. Uncle Mo (Todd Pletcher, trainer; John Velazquez, jockey): 'Mo worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 at Palm Meadows on Sunday. ... 3–year–old debut could come at Gulfstream (March 12) in race created last week. ... Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner is 3–for–3. ... Next start: Tampa Bay Derby (March 12, Tampa Bay Downs, dirt). ... Derby future wager odds: 7–2.
2. To Honor And Serve (Bill Mott, Velazquez): Nashua and Remsen winner on target for 3–year–old debut. ... Velazquez still looking for first Derby win, as is Hall of Famer Mott. ... Next start: Fountain of Youth (Saturday, Gulfstream, dirt). ... Odds: 10–1.
3. Brethren (Pletcher, Ramon Dominguez): Sam F. Davis winner is half brother to '10 Derby winner Super Saver, also trained by Pletcher. ... A son of Distorted Humor, sire of '10 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer. ... Next start: Undecided. ... Odds: 15–1.
4. Mucho Macho Man (Kathy Ritvo, Rajiv Maragh): Won Risen Star by 1� lengths for second career win in seven starts. ... Maragh replaced injured Eibar Coa. ... Next start: Florida Derby (April 3, Gulfstream, dirt). ... Odds: 30–1.
5. Dialed In (Nick Zito; Julien Leparoux): Won Holy Bull in second career start for owner Robert LaPenta. ... A son of '03 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. ... Next start: Fountain of Youth. ... Odds: 8–1.
6. Santiva (Eddie Kenneally, Shaun Bridgmohan): Solid second in Risen Star, 1� lengths behind Mucho Macho Man. ... Won Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year. ... Next start: Undecided. ... Odds: 37–1.
7. The Factor (Bob Baffert, Martin Garcia): Won San Vicente by three–quarters of a length. ... Covered 7 furlongs in 1:20.34; owns Santa Anita record for 6 furlongs at 1:06.98. Next start: Santa Anita Derby (April 9, Santa Anita, dirt). ... Odds: 25–1.
8. Jaycito (Baffert, Mike Smith): Norfolk winner with lots of potential ... Finished seventh in BC Juvenile. ... Baffert took over as trainer after Juvenile. ... Next start: San Felipe (March 12, Santa Anita, dirt). ... Odds: 21–1.
9. Anthony's Cross (Eoin Harty, Joel Rosario): Won Robert B. Lewis by a nose, but needs another big effort to move up ... A son of '04 Derby winner Smarty Jones. ... Next start: Undecided. ... Odds: 45–1.
10. Soldat (Kiaran McLaughlin, Alan Garcia): Ran second in BC Juvenile Turf, then romped by 10� lengths in Gulfstream allowance in January. ... Next start: Fountain of Youth. ... Odds: 18–1.
Keep an eye on: Beamer, Gourmet Dinner, J P's Gusto, Silver Medallion, Stay Thirsty.