Two years ago, Mucho Macho Man brought his trainer, Kathy Ritvo, to the brink of history, finishing third at the Kentucky Derby, the second-highest finish for a female trainer on horse racing’s biggest stage. In 2012, he got Ritvo close again, finishing second at the Breeders Cup Classic, the $5 million race for the best horses in the world.
Saturday, Ritvo finally got her victory. Jockey Gary Stevens and Mucho Macho Man held off a furious stretch run from Will Take Charge to win the 2013 Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita by a nose, making Stevens the oldest jockey to ever win the race — and Ritvo the first female trainer to do so in the Classic’s 30-year history.
“How about that?” Ritvo, who had heart transplant surgery three years before taking Mucho Macho Man to the Derby in 2011, said, according to USA Today. “I hope I’m the first of many.”
Ritvo is the fifth female trainer to win a race at the Breeders Cup, the sport’s annual two-day world championships. But she’s the first to win the Classic, the biggest race at the Breeders Cup and the richest in North American racing.
Her win capped a banner year for women in horse racing. Jockey Rosie Napravnik, who began her career racing under her initials only to make it easier to get quality mounts, finished the year eighth in earnings, according to Equibase. In May, Napravnik rode her Derby horse, Mylute to a fifth-place finish, breaking her own record for best by a female jockey at the sport’s crown jewel race. She and Mylute finished third at the Preakness, the best Triple Crown finish for a female jockey since Julie Krone won the Belmont aboard Colonial Affair in 1993. And Napravnik finished sixth at the Belmont in June, making her the first female jockey to ever ride all three Triple Crown races in a single year.
There is still progress to make in the sport where women still often don’t get the best horses to train or the best mounts to ride. But Napravnik no longer has to race under her initials to get top rides, and thanks to Ritvo, no one has to wonder, as famous trainer D. Wayne Lukas once did, whether female trainers “may get a little soft” in training horses for big races. “Judge me on my talent, not my sex,” Napravnik said before the Derby in May, and her and Ritvo’s 2013 successes, along with all of the gains women have made in the sport in recent years, should bring horse racing closer than it ever has been to doing just that.