Ky. Derby Trail: Macho Man Was Born to Run

Ponche de Leona was three weeks overdue. The 9-year-old mare kept showing signs she was about to foal, and her owner Carole Rio, who leases 40 acres of Rose Grove Farm near Ocala with her husband John, had been staying up day and night with her. Whenever she was unable to, John would take over. They eventually decided to put her out in the field to make her more comfortable.

It was Father’s Day, June 15, extremely late for a mare to give birth. But when the Rios purchased the daughter of Ponche at the 2007 Keeneland November mixed sale for $33,000 from Adena Springs, in foal to Macho Uno, they knew she was a June cover and would foal late, but were expecting her to give birth in May.

It was already the middle of June and Ponche de Leona, despite all the signs, still hadn’t dropped her foal. Her placenta looked fine and everything appeared normal. Carole had to leave the farm on this day to attend to her champion miniature pinchers. When she and her husband left, Carole told the farm manager Jeff Sekay, “This mare is ready to foal, but I really don’t know when, because she’s looked the same for the past three weeks. But I need to get off the farm and attend to my dogs, so just keep an eye on her.”

At 3:30 in the afternoon as they drove back to the farm, Carole received a call from Sekay saying the mare was foaling.

“Oh, damn,” exclaimed Carole, who said she doesn’t like foaling mares out in the field.

“I told him I was five minutes away,” she said. “A few minutes later he called back and said, ‘I think this foal is dead, he just doesn’t look alive.’

“When we arrived, Jeff and his wife were there and they’re standing over the foal and praying. I was doing my own praying on the way there. When I arrived I looked at him and he was lifeless, and I couldn’t see any breathing. I started rubbing him and finally I just stopped and we all prayed together. Just then this sucker jumped up and started running. He didn’t just stand up he jumped up and then ran off from the mare. It was bizarre.
 
“I remember saying to my husband, ‘Well, here’s your Father’s Day present.’ He said, ‘We’ll find out in two years how good of a gift it is.’”

They find out alright. The foal, believed to be dead at birth, was eventually named Mucho Macho Man and is now one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

“After he ran off in the field, Jeff’s wife said, ‘We ought to call him Lazarus.’ And that was his name on the farm,” Carole said.

“He was a character from day one, and was tall and lanky, and my husband used to call him Mr. Green Jeans. He’s older than me and I asked, ‘Who the heck is Mr. Green Jeans?’ He said he was a character on Captain Kangaroo who was this tall, skinny guy. That was way too far back for me. So, I kept calling him Lazarus, but my husband said he couldn’t stop calling him Mr. Green Jeans.”

The Rios’ foaling adventures with Ponche de Leona did not end with Mucho Macho Man.

“What’s weird is that this mare had a Chestertown Slew foal this year, and this time we had her in a stall,” Carole said. “I’ve foaled out thousands of mares, working at Due Process Farm and so many breeding farms since I was a kid, but I’ve never seen anything like this mare and her foals. This foal goes to get up and jumps up on her feet and stayed up for almost two full hours before lying back down. I don’t know what’s going on with this mare. These were the first two foals I had out of her. This foal naturally couldn’t run off because she was in a foaling stall, but I have no doubt she would have done it had she been out in the field.

“She’s a normal foaling mare, but not a normal acting mare. If she didn’t lie down and have that foal at 7:30 in the morning I would have sworn she wasn’t having a foal. I was just working in the barn and I could hear her water break. I couldn’t believe it because she hadn’t walked the stall or pawed or anything. She just lied down and had the foal; it’s amazing. All I can think of is the mare has a very high pain tolerance. If I would have turned her out in a small paddock she would have had it out in the field again.”

Perhaps she passed that high pain tolerance on to Mucho Macho Man, who ran every step of the way in the Louisiana Derby with only three shoes and came out of the race a bit foot sore.   

“When I saw him lean in down the stretch, I said, ‘Oh my God, tell me this horse didn’t just get hurt,’ Carole said. “Whenever a horse does that who had never done it before it usually means something happened to him. When I heard he had lost the shoe I figured it had to hurt him. And it was his white foot which is more sensitive, and his right front, which would cause him to lean in if it was stinging him.”

Not only did the Rios breed and foal Mucho Macho Man, they broke him and gave him his early training.

“I’m kind of humbled by the whole experience,” Carole said. “He was the easiest foal to be around. We had him out with Special Kid, who placed in the Borderland Derby for Doug O’Neill; that’s who he was weaned with. They were the only two foals we had that year. When Mucho Macho Man was running around the paddock it was like he was cutting daisies.

“While we were training him on the farm you couldn’t go far enough with him. He never got tired. And he kept his fitness himself. He’s rangy and lanky and has always been that way. A lot of horses don’t keep their fitness and you have to get them fit. He maintained himself. This horse has always been easy on himself and real smart.

“He was so laid back and took everything in stride. The only thing he had a problem with was walking in the wash rack at the farm and the training center. At both places he wouldn’t walk forward into the wash rack; you had to back him in every day. He backed up so easily it was like maneuvering a car. A month ago, my husband met the van driver who took him to the airport and he said he wouldn’t load on the plane and they had to back him in. But everything else he did was perfect. Whether it was his first time on the racetrack or his first time in company it was as if he had done it his whole life.”

Mucho Macho Man was so big and gangly they didn’t want to push him, so they gave him only one easy work at the training center. They then shipped him to trainer Bill White and he ran six weeks later, finishing second.

“You tell me how much talent he’s got?” Carole said. “It’s not like he had four works here. He had one easy open gallop down the lane, that’s it. Normally I give them four works at the training center before I send them to Bill. He usually runs them six to eight weeks off the farm. When he got him, he saw what a late foal he was. I told him, ‘Bill, physically this horse is late, but mentally he’s way ahead.”

One person who had followed Mucho Macho Man when he was a young horse on the farm was Jim Culver of Dream Team Racing. He watched him develop and grow and said he had a funny feeling he was going to be something special. Just prior to the colt turning 2, Culver purchased him from the Rios, who retained a share.

Ironically, the Rios wound up consigning Ponche de Leona to the 2009 Ocala Breeders Sales Company October mixed sale, a move Carole was against. If she was against selling her before the sale, she certainly was even more so when the mare brought only $5,000.

“There was a miscommunication, and the reserve was not set properly,” Carole said. “Thank God my friend Kathy Paul of Fanlew Farms in Louisiana purchased her for a client. I let the sale go, and when I started training the colt I realized he was a good horse. My husband and I looked at one another, and I said, ‘I got to get the mare back, because I think I’m going to really regret selling her.’

“I contacted Kathy about buying her back before he started, but she was unsure about it. The owner she purchased her for wound up embezzling money and Kathy had to sell out to try to get her board money back. So I wound up buying ‘Ponchie’ back, and she was already in foal to Chestertown Slew. I would have regretted it for sure had I not gotten her back. So, it’s really weird how it all worked out and having the mare back with me. The whole story is freaky.

It got even freakier when Mucho Macho Man was entered in his career debut on July 10 at Calder, but had to be scratched when the horse in the stall next to him flipped in the gate, and he got nicked up enough to be scratched by the vet.

When he was entered back again seven days later he finished a good second to a highly promising colt named Gourmet Dinner. After the race, Dean and Patti Reeves were looking to buy a young horse and were touted on Gourmet Dinner, but when Dean watched the tape of the race he liked Mucho Macho Man more than Gourmet Dinner and purchased majority interest in him instead from Dream Team Racing.

“Had he started that first time, I think he would have won and the Reeves’ never would have seen him in the maiden race with Gourmet Dinner. It was in the cards for the Reeves to own him and Kathy Ritvo to train him. I think it all worked out best for this horse. I feel the horse really connected to Kathy. There was a reason why they scratched him from that first start. It’s just amazing to me the way it wound up. He’s just meant to be where he is.”

Just as Ponche de Leona is meant to be where she is.

“If it ended now it still would be a wonderful ride,” Carole said. “I had only two foals on the ground that year and they’re both stakes horses. One of 35,000 foals a year get to start in the Derby and what’s the likelihood of me having one of them?

“Then, of course, I have the dogs. Right after the Derby I have to fly out to Minnesota on Monday. My dog is competing in the miniature pincher nationals, which has 300 entries and she’s the favorite. Also, her mother is going to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. It’s just amazing. My husband says, ‘You won’t need a plane to fly to Minnesota if this horse wins the Derby.’”

29 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Oldie

Steve, I don't know how to thank you for this beautiful write-up.  I have loved this horse from the minute I saw him, and he is my sentimental favorite.  Win, place, show, or finish up the track, he will remain my favorite.  To me, he looks like a colt who just loves to run, wants to win, and has this great, easy stride and intelligent appearance.  He looks like a horse who is having a ball every time he's on the track, one of those qualities you really can't breed or train into a horse, but you always hope for.  And how funny that Carole Rio doesn't know who Mr. Green Jeans is, bless her young heart :)

25 Apr 2011 10:50 PM
dfayad

Great article!  While at the Florida Derby, I decided to buy a $10 future win on Mucho Macho Man at 29-1.  Well, I live in North Carolina.  Anyway, I took a chance.  My wife and I go to the races once a year.  If he wins the Derby, I guess I'll have to take a trip somewhere to cash it.  Wouldn't that be something?

26 Apr 2011 6:23 AM
i812many

Lazarus is a name found in two separate contexts in the New Testament. Lazarus of Bethany is the subject of a miracle recounted only in the Gospel of John,[1] in which Jesus restores Lazarus to life after four days dead...from wikipedia...As always thanks for the great read!! Just love it!!

26 Apr 2011 8:10 AM
Karen in Texas

Another wonderful, engaging back story, Steve! "Ponchie" sounds like a very interesting mare and I'm glad the Rios were able to buy her back.

26 Apr 2011 12:00 PM
Dutch

Good article, Steve. Tough horses do well in the scrum known as the Kentucky Derby, and Mucho Macho Man certainly fits the profile of a tough horse.

26 Apr 2011 1:22 PM
MyBigRed

Mucho Macho Man, he's gonna win the Kentucky Derby!! and who knows...maybe the Triple Crown too ?? Best of Luck :)

26 Apr 2011 1:22 PM
The Deacon

Good story Steve, I am not as high on this horse as others are. I am not convinced 10 furlongs is his best distance. His last race was not very impressive, but that can be said for many of these Derby hopefuls. I think its very nice that you are writing blogs on most or all of the Derby contenders. It lets the fans know a little more about the horses........

26 Apr 2011 2:01 PM
Gardner

Sorry but I'm fixating on the fact that Carole had never heard of Mr. Green Jeans.  I feel old, very old, now.  

26 Apr 2011 2:12 PM
Linda in Texas

I forgot to mention that i feel Mucho Macho Man had such an easy time being foaled, that the little thing probably thought he was still in utero. So i will term him a "Sleeper" indeed for the Kentucky Derby. Once he realized where he was, he flew! Just like he could do on May 7.

I love all these little things you find out and share with us, Steve. They add so much more to the lives of the horses and right up my alley of interest.

26 Apr 2011 2:22 PM
Sam Santschi

Love this colt Steve and the connections' story.  Threw a little bit down on him in the #2 KDFW.  I am somewhat afraid he is not quite fast enough though.  Trip not a problem imho.  Starting to remind me of American Lion a bit.

26 Apr 2011 2:26 PM
Paula Higgins

A great story Steve. He is in my top three.

26 Apr 2011 5:04 PM
Love 'em all

Mr. Haskin, I've thoroughly enjoyed this story!  What a hoot.

Would've been tempted to name him 'Playing Possum', but that name's been taken x 3.  He was definitely in good hands with those folks.

Keep these stories coming, please!

26 Apr 2011 5:08 PM
Don'tForgetZen

What an amazing story. Always knew there was somethin' special bout that colt. Maybe the Racing Gods will turn him into a champion. He's my numero uno Derby pick since Jan.

26 Apr 2011 5:08 PM
Rita

Thanks for the story on MMM Steve.It's good to know all about him as I wrote to you when I first heard of him because the Reeves are from Georgia just like me. There was a big write up about him in a county paper. They live about 25 miles from me. I've been following him ever since then.I've had this feeling about him to going to the Derby. It would be great if he wins since Georgia is considering bringing throughbred racing here. It has passed the house and they have appointed a committee to start studying about all things involved. If Mucho won that might help alot to bring it here.He sure has a cool past maybe he will be the human interst story this year especially with the trainer he has and her story. Enjoyed your writing as usuall Steve waiting for the next one.

26 Apr 2011 5:25 PM
Jean in Chicago

Dear Steve,

 Thanks again for another facinating 'back story'.  The only problem is that I get emotionally involved and start rooting for each one.

 At this rate, I'm quickly getting to the point where my final selection may be based on which horse my cat shows the most interest in when I watch the race replays on my computer.  (She was pawing the screen for ArchX3 and Nehro.)

26 Apr 2011 8:45 PM
Coldfacts

Nice story but was MMM born to run away with Derby 137? I have been matching this colt to the derby winner’s chart for some time and he just does not fit in. As I have stated before, the Derby Winner’s Chart read like the MEMBERS register of an exclusive club. MMM would not get in even if he was recommended by a foundation member. The derby chart does reflect two winners who can be considered imposters. That’s exactly how  MMM would be viewed with a victory Ironically one is Giacomo sire by MMM grandsire Holy Bull and the other is Goto Del Sol. In all seriousness, this colt does not have a derby winner’s pedigree and too many associated negatives.

(a) A Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has never sired a derby winner. Only Unbridled as BC winner has sired a derby winner and he is the best extension of Mr. prospector as he also sired a Preakness & Belmont winner. Can it occur? Yes, but not with a June 15th foal.

(b) Dam sire a grandson of Mr. Prospector. No grandson of the great stallion has ever been associated with the winner of a Triple Crown race.

(c) The last horseMMM defeated was the slow Santiva that won the 8 1/2F Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in 1:45.95 .

(d) June 15th foal with average ability will not defeat older stronger colt with more ability in a truly run race.  Northern Dancer (May 27)was probably the last colt that young to win the derby. He unlike MMM was impeccably bred being by Nearctic out of a Native Dancer broodmare. He set a new stakes record of 2:00 in his derby victory that was subsequently broken by the great Secretariat.

(e) This has no significance but he was given a horrible name based on the story above. What about names like: Delayed Reaction; Come Forth; Death Defied; Tears of Joy; Collective Relief

27 Apr 2011 1:07 AM
Oldie

Coldfacts, I laughed out loud at your final comment about MMM - seems to me his name should have been Mr Green Jeans :) - or maybe Macho June Oh.

All the history stacked against him makes him a more interesting prospect to me, but then I've never been known as someone who would go along to get along.

27 Apr 2011 10:49 AM
KY VET

IS IT ME? OR DO THE "FACTS" POSTED BY THE ABOVE POSTER,LACK COMMON SENSE? FIRST OF ALL..PICKING A RACE USING STATISTICS IS THE SUREST, QUICKEST WAY TO THE POOR HOUSE..THIS POSTER, GOES ON BREEDING ALOT..WHICH IS FINE, IF THATS YOUR THING, BUT FOR 3 YEARS, IV'E SEEN HIM GO WITH HORSES THAT DON'T EVEN HAVE THE BEST BREEDING! THATS FINE...BUT THEN WE HAVE TO HEAR THINGS LIKE...THIS HORSE , OR THAT HORSE HAS BAD BREEDING, WHEN THE HORSE WON A GRADE 1! REALLY? DIALED IN CANT GO LONG? WINS GRADE 1 ALREADY IN 4TH START! OR MO CAN'T GO LONG? HE PASSED THE TEST IN THE RICHEST LONGEST GRADE 1 AT 2!!!! MMM CAN'T GO LONG? HE HAS AS MANY LONG RACES AS ANYONE....THIS IS FAULTY LOGIC! TO USE STATS OVER THE INDIVIDUAL...THE FACTOR WON EASY GOING LONG....HE IS A SPRINTER...THE HORSE WAS JUST GOOD! YOUR OPINIONS ABOUT THE MANY HORSES THAT YOU CRITICIZE, JUST MEANS YOU WOULD HAVE NOT WON ON ANY OF THEM IN THOSE PREPS...YOU WOULD HAVE GONE ON BREEDING AND LOST AGAINST THEM RIGHT!!!!? PLEASE TRY TO LEARN THE GAME!!! THE MOST IMPORTANT THING...THE INDIVIDUAL HORSE!!!!

27 Apr 2011 1:43 PM
trackjack

Steve,

Thanks for another well done article.

You bring the racing fan right into the foaling and raising experience.

Some of MMM's "flair" may have come from his sire Macho Uno.  Before his win in the 2000 BC Juvenile, Macho Uno was a handful in the paddock, "whinneying" to anyone who would listen and acting like he was the "prince of the paddock".  Studdish is another word that comes to mind.  He went on to the track and ran like a true champion.

Macho Uno came to our home track, Thistledown, for the Ohio Derby in 2001.  My wife and I went to see if he was still a handful and we were not disappointed.  One could hear him coming long before you saw him on the walkover and when he entered the paddock he was "talking" to any other horse there that he was the boss.  What an animal.  Unfortunately he finished third that day.

Looking forward to your updates.  We'll be in Louisville on Monday for Derby week.  I won last year's roadtotheroses.com contest and the time has finally come for our dream come true trip.  

27 Apr 2011 1:50 PM
calico cat

trackjack,

Congratulations on winning the Road to the Roses contest. Have a great week in Louisville. That's going to be awesome!!! Hope the weather is kind to you and also all the horses in this year's Derby. Stay dry and have fun!!!

27 Apr 2011 2:59 PM
Linda in Texas

trackjack - that is a great story on Macho Uno. I love it when they whinney and talk, stops me in my tracks every time.

Hope you and Mrs. 'trackjack' have a wonderful time during Derby Week.

I think that is wonderful you won the contest and will reap the benefits in a few days. Very nice.

For many of us not so lucky to be going,we will have to rely upon Mr. Haskin and perhaps other regular bloggers who can fill us in. Have a safe trip.

Linda

27 Apr 2011 5:37 PM
ImagineThat

LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! What an awesome story! I think I laughed out loud at the part about him popping right up on his feet and running off! LOL

Job well done, as always, Steve :0)

27 Apr 2011 8:29 PM
Agnes

I love Steve's stories about horses.  Now Macho Man is very real to me, not just a name.  

27 Apr 2011 11:10 PM
Slew

What a tender and touching story.  It makes me want to cheer even louder for MMM.  He's overcome so much.  And his dam sounds very special herself.  

28 Apr 2011 8:26 AM
dannynonnan

I respect Mr. Haskins writing ability, and have enjoyed many articles (and books) over the years. It would be great if we could get basic Triple Crown information like:

1) A running list with dates of who's in and who has defected.

2) a graded earnings list (where did it go ?)

Basic stuff. Ahh, but that's the world we live in. Screw the facts, let's write about who's coat looks good this week.

28 Apr 2011 12:44 PM
TerriV

What a fun story!!  I love hearing all this kind of stuff but it does make it harder to stay with any one horse.  Macho is in my top 3 - what can I say, I'm a Holy Bull fan and this story just re-enforces my interest in him.

28 Apr 2011 4:47 PM
Coldfacts

Oldie,

Many thanks for your kind words cited in another Blog. You should be careful when commenting on the stuff I submit as I am regarded as pedigree crazy and you might just be enjoying misinformation skillfully written. In all seriousness, I appreciate the compliments. I try to mix some humor into the cold facts so as not to be boring.

If I owned MMM I would not run him in the derby. He is too young to be sitting level with older horses going 10F. He is a very big colt that has ability but I fear he will get hurt in the derby. The competition in the derby will be far better than the slow Santiva he defeated in the Risen Star. I am not convinced he has the speed to attain the 2:02 and a bit that will be required to win the 2011 Derby. His pedigree is very ordinary and is similar to his speed figures. What exactly has he done to set himself apart from the others? There are a number of colts that have some exceptional performances that his record does not match. His story makes for nice reading but the derby field will be mean and fast.

If Master Of Hounds takes to the dirt he will win the derby. He might not have the best PP going in but he certainly has the most positives. His last race indicated to me that he is exceptional.  He ran his last 2YO race on Nov. 6th 2010 and returned to the races on March 26, 2011. That’s about 4 ½ months between races. He was shipped from Ireland to Dubai to contest a 9 1/2F race on an unfamiliar surface. No American trainers would ship a colt with classic potential to another country off a 4 ½ months break to contest a race on an unfamiliar surface over 9 1/2F and for good reasons.  There are many negatives associated with such adecision. Here are a few: (a) Effects of long travel (b) Potentials dislike for the new surface (c) Level of fitness for the distance (a) Advantage of home based competitors.

MOH ran the best race of his career when faced with overwhelming negatives. This is the sign of an exceptional thoroughbred. How many of the American contender could have done so. Sweet Ducky who was second to Dialed In in the Holy Bull was in the race and he was MIA. The European trainers are the best getting horses fit for long distance races. They train them on obstacle courses while the American horses are trained mostly on flat surfaces. There are those that are justifiably skeptical about his overwhelming turf pedigree and I likewise share their skepticism. However, I take confidence in the fact that his sire Kingmambo was sire of Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid. His dam sire the recently deceased Salders Well was the dam sire of Sahkee who was runner up to Tiznow in the BCC in his first attempt on dirt. Sahkee was also 3r in the Dubai World Scup on dirt.

MMM might have been born to run but MOH was bred to win classics.

28 Apr 2011 7:38 PM
Onechaser

Great story!  Good luck in the Derby, I will be cheering Mucho Macho Man on.  I think he is reaching his peak and this is his time to shine!  

Onechaser

30 Apr 2011 8:35 PM
Curlin

Coldfacts,

    I always enjoy your posts, but I'm a little confused.  Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but you state no grandson of Mr. Prospector has ever been associated with a TC winner.  What about 2007 when Street Sense won the Derby.  His sire, Street Cry is a grandson of Mr. Prospector, is he not?  What about 2004 when Smarty Jones won the Derby.  His sire, Elusive Quality, is a grandson of Mr. Prospector as well, correct?  Let's go back the year before with Funny Cide.  His sire, Distorted Humor is also a grandson of Mr. Prospector.  Did you mean on the dam's side?

    As for no BC Juvenile winner ever siring a Derby winner, well that is true, but how much weight can you put into that?  It wasn't until 2007 that no BC Juvenile winner had ever won the Derby.

    I guess my ultimate point is that sometimes facts and statistics really carry too much weight.  Every year in the Derby you could list reasons for why all 20 of the Derby contenders can't win the race.  And ultimately, you would be right 95% of the time since 19 of the horses indeed don't win.  A 95% strike rate is impressive, is it not?

    We've seen most recently how the "Derby rules" have been broken numerous times.  Funny Cide a gelding, Smarty Jones a PA bred who was bred to be more of a miler, Street Sense a BC Juvenile winner, Big Brown with only 3 starts, etc.  And then of course Giacomo, who had a lot stacked against him.

    Maybe MMM's late foaling date will affect him, but since this horse was running well last year as a 2YO in graded company, I'm more willing to look past that.  He's a runner, battle tested and seems to be a pretty tough little colt.  I give him a big chance come Saturday as I do the top 3 finishers coming out of the LA Derby this year.  I don't know, but I have a feeling it's going to be the key prep this year.  It's been laughed at as insignificant in recent years, but I think this year is different.  Just Saturday we saw Machen come off a 5th place finish in the LA Derby to take the Derby Trial.  Your thoughts?

01 May 2011 9:01 PM

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