This is an expanded version of a feature that appears in the November 30, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic victory by Mucho Macho Man provided enough uplifting human interest stories to fill a book. But there actually is another lesser known story surrounding the son of Macho Uno that also packs quite an emotional wallop, and that is the comeback story of Jonathan “Finn” Green, the racing manager for majority owners Dean and Patti Reeves whose hands-on work with Mucho Macho Man goes far beyond the typical duties of his job title.
While Mucho Macho Man and Ritvo virtually came back from the “dead” (Ritvo following her heart transplant and Mucho Macho Man leaping to his feet after he was believed to be dead at birth), Green came back from hell. It was the hell of a failed business, a failed marriage, a failed relationship with his daughter, and his and his daughter’s losing battles with alcohol that left him teetering on the edge between life and death.
But it was his faith in God, his strong will, and his new-found relationship with his daughter that eventually led him to the Reeveses and a towering colt named Mucho Macho Man. Green had stepped back from the edge of the abyss and has now found happiness in all aspects of his life.
Green’s love of horses was inherited from his father, Bob Green, farm manager at Elmendorf Farm and then Greentree Stud for many years. His mother, Patricia, is the daughter of Hal Price Headley, who owned Beaumont Farm in Lexington, Ky. and was one of the most successful Thoroughbred breeders of his time, in addition to being one of the founders of Keeneland Race Course and the track’s first president. Patricia’s sister is Alice Headley Chandler, owner of Mill Ridge Farm and the breeder of several champions, including Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner Sir Ivor. So it is pretty obvious that racing has always been in Finn Green’s blood.
“Those are indelible memories,” said Green, the youngest of five children. “I was born the night my family moved from Elmendorf Farm to Greentree. My real name is Jonathan, but my brother couldn’t say it and kept calling me Jonafin, so that’s I got to be called Finn. I was the fifth child and a fin was five dollar bill. I grew up on Greentree. We had The Axe, the last living son of Mahmoud there. La Troienne was buried near the front of the farm. I was there the night they pulled Stop the Music out of his mother and I was there the day they buried Tom Fool. He was such a special horse.
“I have always loved horses and didn’t know whether I was going to be a farm manager or be on the racetrack, but I just wanted to be around horses, always. There was a time when I wasn’t and I was empty and void during those times. Being around horses was the only time I felt fulfilled.”
Green graduated from Bryan Station High School in Lexington and within weeks was housing tobacco and raising cattle with two of his brothers on their Mint Lane Farm. Green always loved selling horses and began building consignments to sell before he was 20. He and his brothers had the distinction of selling the mare Two Rings at Keeneland in 1983 for a then-world record $4.5 million.
Then, things went terribly wrong. One problem led to another, interest rates skyrocketed, and soon Green’s life began to spin out of control.
“We borrowed too much money and we were young and ignorant and did a lot of things without investigating them enough,” Green said.
Forced to close Mint Lane Farm, Green was hired to manage Spendthrift Farm, but the pressures and the belief he could do everything himself and didn’t need help from anyone began to take their toll and he turned to alcohol.
“Some of the ways I coped with that was to drink more,” Green said. “My drinking picked up in the mid-80s and the more I drank the more problems I had. What I didn’t realize was that my drinking added to the problem. It snowballed out of control on me and there were a lot of repercussions. It was like a train wreck; one thing after another.
“I felt all I had to do was survive it, but it kept getting worse. I got so bad that only God could help me. I lost my house, my wife, my business, and then my daughter. It was impossible for me to accept. Yet, I still hadn’t been broken down, and I’m the type of guy who wasn’t going to give up until I was ground into dust. When I finally got to that point is when my life started to turn around and I began going in another direction.”
That point came in June, 1992. Green’s 9-year-old daughter Mears was going to Pepper Hill Day Camp. Green was supposed to pick her up on a Friday night, but he stopped to have a drink and never showed up that night.
“By the time I got there on Saturday, everybody had left but her,” Green recalled. “She was sitting on a bale of straw in front of a concrete block building and there was counselor inside. When I pulled up, the look in my daughter’s eyes was so painful that something just clicked inside me and I couldn’t deal with it. I put her in my pickup truck and took her to a house I was living in and put her to bed, so I could drink more, because I couldn’t deal with that look.
“Whenever I couldn’t deal with reality I would drink and then drink more. I went in to kiss my daughter, and when I was walking back out of the room I felt like I had failed completely as a father and a human being and I thought about killing myself. Going bankrupt and losing the house and all the material stuff was one thing, but failing as a father was too much to accept. I walked away and didn’t realize it then, but do now, that God reached down and touched me and told me I didn’t have to live that way anymore. From that day forward I’ve never had a drink. Alcohol is a spirit and they even call it a spirit. When I quit putting those spirits in me some other type of spirit had to come inside me to change my life.”
Green attended the University of Kentucky from 1999 to 2003, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude, won the Gaines Fellowship in the Humanities and the prestigious A.S. Sullivan Medallion, awarded to only three students who displayed exceptional love and concern for other people. He received a bachelor’s degree in English, and was nominated by UK to interview for a Rhodes Scholarship.
While Green was getting his life back together, Mears’ was starting to unravel. She had unfortunately inherited her father’s addiction to alcohol, and Green and his ex-wife Cere eventually put her in the Kids Helping Kids program. He wrote his thesis on the experience and the steps leading to her recovery, which eventually was published.
He began his thesis: Some of you who read my thesis, which portrays some part of my life's story and a great deal of my daughter Mears' life story, may question why a father would compose a document of this nature. After careful consideration, Mears and I determined two points. One: this is our story. And, two: we believe that by telling our story we might provide some hope, guidance, and light to kids and their families who travel the same path.
“Mears had been harmed by my behavior. As an irresponsible parent, I had given her many reasons not to trust me. Trust is an essential element in relationships. Relationships and lives suffer when the failure of trust is present. Her mother and I had been divorced for almost ten years. At the time when Mears broke her silence, I had been sober for six and a half years.
“I had never been glad to say good-bye to Mears; in an odd way, a sense of relief engulfed me. She remained seated when her mother and I walked into the room. Cere told her, ‘I love you Sweet-Pea” and Mears responded, ‘I know that.’ The three of us were crying. Glancing at me, Mears said, ‘Toodles,’ and I leaned over and held her face in my hands and kissed the top of her head. After a moment, Mears slightly recoiled. I let her go and left the room.”
In Green’s interview with Mears for the thesis, she said, “It is now clear to me that you saved my life by putting me in here, and I am forever grateful for that. I know that I would have never been able to say these things to you had you not cared enough to get me help.”
Green finally had exorcised all his demons, and most of all, he had his daughter back. Mears, now 30, has been living in Southgate, Ky., a suburb of Cincinnati, for 10 years, and has made a good life for herself.
Green remarried in 2005 and has a 19-year-old stepdaughter. Although he hasn’t been home much recently because of his travels with Mucho Macho Man, he says, “My wife and I are very grounded in our relationship.”
Following his graduation, he bought several yearlings in 2003, but didn’t decide to get back into racing on a full-time basis until the spring of 2008. Three years earlier, he had fallen in love with a yearling filly at the Keeneland September sale, selling as Hip No. 703. All he had to spend was $50,000, and after the bidding reached his limit, he upped it to $55,000.
“I tried hard to break my habit of spending money I didn’t have and stopped at fifty-five,” Green recalled.
His final bid actually stood for a brief while, but was upped to $60,000 and the hammer fell. Green had missed by $5,000 of purchasing the filly, later to be named Zenyatta. He followed her career, and when he watched her win the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park three years later, he decided to get back into the horse business full-time.
“I called Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Farm, who was a friend of mine,” Green said. At Mint Lane, I had sold Taylor Made’s horses before they started selling them themselves. I asked him if he’d consider hiring an old man. We talked for a while, and I went to work for Taylor Made as their business developer.
“One of my responsibilities was to work with every division of the farm and following leads generated from each of those divisions on up-and-coming horses. I was following a lead on Mucho Macho Man after he finished second in the Remsen (gr. II). I contacted Dean Reeves and met him at Gulfstream Park and told him I was business developer at Taylor Made and because they were new in the horse business I wanted to reach out and introduce myself.
Reeves was so impressed by Green’s knowledge of all aspects the industry, he offered him a job, which Green initially turned down.
“He kept asking me, and finally I went to work for the Reeves on Sept. 1, 2011,” he said.”
The first thing Green had to impress upon the Reeveses was that he was not a “yes” man and the horse always came first before the needs of the owner.
“Finn helped us to straighten it all out and put everything in perspective,” Patti Reeves said. “For example, before Finn, Dean and I would look at the upcoming races, and I would say, ‘No that race won’t work, we have a family wedding that weekend.’
“With Finn, he would tell me in his southern charming way. ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry, but this is not about you, it’s about the horse.’”
Dean Reeves added, “Finn is without question the smartest person I have ever been around. He began helping with many things including the review and selection of new horses. I noticed in the process that Finn and Kathy were like-thinkers and connected on many levels of the horse business. I needed someone like Finn to help me navigate through the many pitfalls of the racing business.
“Over the next two and half years Finn brought tough love, brilliant strategy, and an amazing gift of knowledge and horsemanship to the team. His knowledge of pedigree analysis is incredible. He can recite pedigrees six deep on almost any horse and was around some of the great horses of our time. Finn has been a tremendous help to Kathy and has made Patti and I better owners (even when it was hard to take). Finn is due a lot of credit with the development of Mucho Macho Man. His relationship working with Kathy has been a blessing. As Gary Stevens said to me “they are like Peanut Butter and Jelly.”
Said Finn, “I’m my father’s son and since my sobriety I have learned to deal with things more straightforwardly and approach things more head on. I told Dean, ‘I would probably tell you things you weren’t accustomed to hearing from other people.’ I would make all the horses’ decisions for you, because you can’t manage horses based on what your families desires are. It just wouldn’t work out that way. We reached an agreement and I was with Kathy in Saratoga after the Belmont. We evaluated the horse and determined he had a wind issue that needed to be taken care of.”
Mucho Macho Man’s wind problem was corrected, and it was time to map out a plan for the horse. But first they had to come to terms with the new working relationship.
“Kathy and I spent a lot of time with each other, and I was at the barn every day,” Green said. “Kathy, as all trainers would, had some initial hesitancies that we discussed and worked out. She and I came to respect each other immediately because we’re both horse people and we have a wonderful relationship. What I do is minimize risk for the horses.
“We charted out a two-year plan for the horse. Every race we charted out for him in 2012 he made, and it rarely ever works out that way, but it did that year. That was an amazing campaign. . We agreed we would give him time to recover between races. He was growing a lot and we didn’t want to push him and throw him in the deep end.”
Following a series of physical setbacks with the horse in 2013, the journey of Green, Ritvo, and Mucho Macho Man led them to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a chance to avenge his heart-breaking defeat in the 2012 Classic.
But first came the Awesome Again Stakes. Green and Ritvo, who had received a number of calls from jockey agents seeking the mount on Mucho Macho Man, were on the phone one morning and decided to try to get Gary Stevens to replace Edgar Prado and Mike Smith, the horse’s two previous jockeys who had other commitments that day. At that very instant, Stevens’ agent, Craig O’Brien, walked into the barn inquiring about the mount. Once again, destiny seemed to be pushing Mucho Macho Man and his team to the inevitable conclusion. Stevens, who was on a remarkable journey of his own, came aboard and all the chapters in this fairy tale story finally were complete.
Mucho Macho Man won the Awesome Again Stakes in grand style, setting him up perfectly for the Classic.
Perhaps the most telling moment occurred in the paddock before the Classic.
“It was 17 minutes before post and we were all quiet,” Green said. “I turned to Gary and said, ‘In 19 minutes everything is going to be different.’”
The last person Green was happy for following Mucho Macho Man’s thrilling victory was himself. He knew it was the work of God that brought him to this special time and place in his life.
“It took me a couple of days for it to sink in that God put me on this path with the Reeveses and with Kathy and Macho and Gary,” Green said. “Kathy has done such a fabulous job with this horse. I still get emotional about it. I was just so glad for that horse, and for Kathy and Gary and the Reeveses. But most of all I was happy for the horse.”
To those close to Green who knew the depths from where he came, they were happy for him.
“My brother has had his demons, but he conquered them in his own unique way,” said his sister Adele. “He is a hardworking and good man and is evidence that if you pursue your passion you will be rewarded. And the universe has sent him hardworking and good people with whom to work. Finn deserves all the sunshine that has come his way.”