Big man in town

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Still tall, still long, still observant, Mucho Macho Man stood in the back of his new stall at Fair Hill Training Center and watched. The back wall isn’t really a wall, it’s an oversized metal screen (think equine picture window), so there’s plenty to see.

Rain (not snow) bounced off the outer window, fillies walked past, exercise riders talked. The barn’s newest resident – a multiple graded stakes winner of more than $2.3 million – soaked it up.

“Macho, come ‘ere you beast; come here my boy. You coming?” trainer Kathy Ritvo called. “I know, I know, there’s a lot to see. That’s a filly. She’ll be back around.”

Sporting a light sheet to ward off the chill of a Maryland morning, the beast snorted, took a look, made one – brief – visit at the front of his stall and went back to watching. He’s been in town for about a day and won’t go to the track until tomorrow, but he’s an instant hit at Fair Hill – taking his place in line behind previous residents Barbaro, Animal Kingdom, Union Rags, Paynter, Vyjack and other big names through the years. Ritvo and owner Reeves Thoroughbred Racing shipped their stable star to Maryland this week after changing plans in Florida.

The 5-year-old finished a dull seventh (he was officially pulled up by jockey Mike Smith) in the mud of the Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 19. Mucho Macho Man will skip a rematch with Fort Larned in Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Handicap, in favor of some time at Fair Hill after being diagnosed with a minor virus. He’ll train on the dirt or Tapeta tracks, he’ll visit the therapy center, he might even get some turnout time. For now, he’s accompanied by two other Reeves/Ritvo horses in stalls rented from barn owner Earle Mack. Territorially, he’s between the barns of Team Valor and Mike Trombetta. Nice neighborhood. There is no firm target for his next race, though the move north was going to happen regardless.

“We were going to be headed to New York anyway and we considered (Fair Hill) last year,” Ritvo said. “We really thought about coming here. This time, we decided to come here first. This is a great facility. It gives you a lot of options. The horses that are here look great. I visited once before, but I’ve never been here with a horse.”

Bred in Florida, Mucho Macho Man put together a strong 2012 with three wins, two seconds and a third from six starts – a year after making all three Triple Crown events (including a third in the Kentucky Derby). The son of Macho Again finished second in the Grade 1 Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Classic to close his season, stamping himself a player in the older horse division again this year all being right.

Ritvo blamed the Sunshine Millions defeat on the sloppy track, and will concentrate on getting the long-striding bay back into form.

“You know me, if there’s anything that’s not perfect we don’t run so we’ll get ready and run when we’re perfect,” she said. “He’s very consistent and a really, really nice horse.”

The Sunshine Millions loss halted a string of seven top-three finishes, going back to the Belmont Stakes in June 2011. He bounced back and worked three times at Gulfstream while prepping for the Gulfstream Park Handicap, which he won in 2012. Last week, the connections announced he wouldn’t run.

“Obviously in the Sunshine Millions the horse was smarter than I was,” said Finn Green, racing manager for Reeves, of the sloppy going. “And then he got a little sick. The virus didn’t knock him out, but we prefer to err on the side of caution. Kathy and I just weren’t going to risk anything. He had enough symptoms, we had enough information and we made a tough but good decision.”

At Fair Hill, Mucho Macho Man will get a chance to bounce back for a summer/fall campaign. The facility includes two tracks, a turf course, turnout paddocks at every barn, thousands of acres of fields and trails and the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center’s technology (hyperbaric chamber, saltwater spa, vibration stall, water treadmill and more).

“A horse like him from a place like that . . . you’ve got a lot of options,” said Green. “It seemed like good opportunity. We think he’ll like the place, and we think we’ll like the place.”