Kentucky Derby 2011: A Guide, Part 1

Toby’s Corner won’t be there, but the show must go on, and I wanted to present a handful of horses worth rooting for. Two of these horses, Mucho Macho Man and Archarcharch, I almost included with Toby’s story. Hopefully, you’ll find a horse here you like!

Archarcharch trains for the Kentucky Derby.

THE LITTLE GUY: Archarcharch comes into the Derby having followed exactly the same path as Toby. He won his first prep, was third in his second, and won his last, the million dollar Arkansas Derby. His trainer, Jinks Fires, is 70 years old. This will be his first Kentucky Derby. Fires’ daughter married a jockey, Jon Court. Jon wanted to make it to the Derby, and moved his family out of Arkansas to Southern California. They had a deal. If Jon didn’t find a Derby horse within so many years, they’d move back home to Arkansas. Jon never found his Derby horse. They moved back to Arkansas. Jon, now 50, is still a jockey. And he’ll be on the back of Archarcharch, who he has ridden in all of the horse’s races. He found his Derby horse in his father-in-law’s backyard.

So, you might be wondering, how down home is Archarcharch? THIS down home:

While the stress might be getting to Archarcharch’s owner, Yagos said because of unique circumstances he is quite confident his colt will handle the excitement and media crush awaiting him at Churchill Downs.

Jon Court celebrates his Arkansas Derby win with Archarcharch.

“Just before we sent him to be broken, he lived with us on the farm, and that’s right next to the salvage yard,” said Yagos. “He’s been used to forklifts and trucks and equipment since he was a baby. And we are also right in the flight path for an Air Force base. We get those big C-130s coming and going all the time. He’s sure going to be used to all the noise.”

Archarcharch himself is an attractive horse with a near-black coat. He’s not particularly big, but he is bred to run a distance of ground. His people love him, and report that he is a very kind, easy horse to deal with. He’s a quiet horse. Jinks Fires is the same way. This is an old school crew, think John Wayne and his trusty mount.

BABY HUEY: Mucho Macho Man is from a very different kind of group of people. From Suwanee, Georgia, MMM’s owners have put up billboards along the I-85 corrider telling Georgians that MMM is their hometown horse. They’ve also campaigned the Georgia legislature to find a place for horse racing in Georgia. Quiet cowboys they are not. But they are also good people. The day before MMM’s best Derby prep, the Risen Star, his longtime jockey, Eibar Coa, suffered a devastating fall. He watched, paralyzed from the neck down, as Rajiv Maragh won the race on his horse. The next day, Mucho Macho Man’s owners visted Eibar in the hospital, and gave him a check for $18,000 as though he’d made the winning ride himself.

Much Macho Man trains for the Kentucky Derby.

Eibar Coa went on to shock his doctors by regaining movement in his limbs. Less than two months after his cataclysmic injury, Eibar walked out of the hospital. How unbelievable was Coa’s recovery? This unbelievable:

“In all my years of neurosurgery never have I seen a case, an event, this impressive and this miraculous,” said Dr. Scott Berta, the attending surgeon at Memorial Regional Hospital South. “To have a man who’s completely paralyzed from the neck down — a complete quadriplegic — and then be able to get up and walk is an extremely rare event. And do to it so quickly on top of it is pretty much unheard of.”

Coa will be at the Kentucky Derby to root on the big horse, Mucho Macho Man. And when I say “big horse” I mean that literally. MMM is over seventeen hands tall, and he’s not yet three years old. He will not turn three until June 15th. Most thoroughbreds are bred to be born as close to the January 1st cut-off date as possible. MMM’s dam, Ponche de Leona, was bred late, but her owners expected her to foal at the first of May. Still late, but not obscenely late. Ponche de Leona had other ideas, holding onto her baby for another six weeks.

A newly acquired member of Carole Rio’s broodmare band, she did not yet know the mare’s unusual foaling behavior. Which is, essentially, no behavior whatsoever. When Ponche de Leona is about to have a foal, you’d never know it. She just stands there, grazes, acts totally normal. Then she lays down, has a foal. Gets up, continuous to act as though has happened. And so it was with Mucho Macho Man, who was foaled in a field, thanks to his dam’s unusual behavior. The weirdness didn’t stop there.

Rajiv Maragh celebrates with Mucho Macho Man after the Risen Star Stakes.

Everyone thought MMM was stillborn. He lay, lifeless, in the field, while people worked over him, rubbing him, trying to get him to breathe. Just as they gave up, the colt leapt to his feet and took off. There were no struggling first steps, no awkward attempts to get up. Bizarre as this scene was, it has since been repeated by MMM’s younger siblings. Ponche de Leona is a strange mare, indeed.

MMM might have been born too late, but his mind was always two steps ahead. Super easy to train, MMM made up for his physical immaturity with his kindness and intelligence. He eventually found his way to the barn of trainer Kathy Ritvo, a heart transplant survivor. For Kathy and Mucho Macho Man, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Kathy and MMM have a deep affinity for one another. (As a side note, if he were to win the Kentucky Derby, Kathy would become the first female trainer of a Derby winner.) MMM is too tall, too gangly, his ears are too big and his legs are too long, but despite all that baby huey awkwardness, he finds a way to win. MMM has heart. Just like his jockey, his owners, and his trainer.

2 thoughts on “Kentucky Derby 2011: A Guide, Part 1

  1. Bea N Grinton says:

    What great stories on these two fantastic horses. Can’t wait to hear the call to the post as I am quite certain that this will be a derby to remember. Good luck and safe journey to all!

  2. anal isa says:

    Jeez! How do you pick who to ROOT FOR!! Can’t everyone win? Gonna read the others you posted and probably torture myself even more…

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