by Richard Rosenblatt
We gathered at Michael’s on York Avenue in Timonium for our annual crab cake dinner a few nights before the 2011 Preakness Stakes. The usual dozen or so suspects were seated at the table: turf writers, photographers, and racing publicity folks from across the country.
The crab cakes were flowing. So were liquid refreshments. So was the banter. Animal Kingdom had just won the Kentucky Derby (GI). Could he be the one to end a Triple Crown drought dating back to Affirmed in 1978? What about this rider, or that long shot, or the new shooters?
With opinions flying, voices rising and dessert on the way, a group of folks starting walking toward our table. They spread out and circled us, nearly every one of them a stranger to our group. Someone gave a signal and within seconds, they began singing, loudly, and clapping to the rhythm:
“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey
Mucho Macho Man
I gotta be a macho man
Mucho macho man
I gotta be a macho … ’’
At first, we actually thought The Village People had descended upon our table, but, of course, that wasn’t the case. This entourage was led by Dean and Patti Reeves, a fun-loving couple from Georgia and the owners of Mucho Macho Man, third in the Derby two weeks earlier, and the Reeves’ were hoping for a bright future for the horse that put them on the racing map just two years into the business.
“We still talk about that night, and how much fun it was,’’ Dean Reeves was saying the other day as he and his partners prepare for a second trip to the Derby with Tax, a 3-year-old gelding claimed for $50,000, who ran second to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial (GII) at Aqueduct in a key Derby prep. “My brother and a bunch of family and friends and Patti and I were having dinner there, and we’re just having a good time, enjoying the whole experience of the Triple Crown.”
They’re still having a grand time, thanks primarily to Mucho Macho Man’s success on the track, and now off the track as a sire. He went on to finish sixth in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont Stakes, then ran second in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) in 2012, won it the following year, and closed out his career with more than $5.6 million in earnings.
He won nine of 25 lifetime starts, was second five times and finished third on six other occasions. He now stands for $10,000 at Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs Kentucky.
It’s been eight years since the Reeves’ first Derby entrant (Dean says he attended his first Derby in 1976, and showed up for the next 22 years). And, now, with three partners, he’s gearing up for a second attempt to win America’s greatest race with Tax.
“It took a little while, and many people never get a chance to come back after the first time, but here we are, and Tax got us here,’’ said Reeves. “At the first Derby, we must have had 100 people with us when we walked the horse over. It was an army — just a mind-boggling experience.”
How does Tax stack up against top contenders such as Omaha Beach, Tacitus and trainer Bob Baffert’s trio of Roadster, Game Winner and Improbable?
“He’s going in the right direction,’’ said Tax’s trainer Danny Gargan. “If he keeps progressing, he could be in the mix late. He’s a pretty nice horse.”
Junior Alvarado gets the call on Tax. He was aboard for the last two races — a victory in the Withers (GIII) at the Big A on Feb. 20, and runner-up (by a head) finish in the Wood Memorial. Prior to the Withers, Tax finished third in the Remsen (GII) on Dec. 1, his first stakes race. Tax is 14th on the Derby leaderboard with 52 points.
“What I can hang my hat on is he’s run three straight 1 1/8-mile races and he’s been very consistent and improving all along,’’ said Reeves. “He certainly won’t get the notoriety of Bob Baffert [and his horses] and Omaha Beach, but I’m cautiously optimistic. I would not be shocked that, turning for home, we’ll be in the mix.”
Gargan claimed Tax, a son of Arch, from Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider, on Oct. 21 at Keeneland, after winning a seven-way shake (six others put a claim in for the horse). Tax returns have been pretty good: $326,300 from two wins, two seconds and a third.
The Reeves’ went into partnership on Tax with R.A. Hill Stable, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable. Reeves Thoroughbred Racing — Dean and Patti’s operation that began 10 years ago — owns a 35 percent interest.
When RTR went into business, the Reeves’ had a simple plan with what Dean called “some excess retirement money.” Dean is Chairman of Reeves Young, a commercial contracting company, and Patti owns Reeves Media and Island Displays, a billboard company based in the Turks and Caicos islands.
“We never went into it to make a dime.’’ He said. “Patti and I wanted to have a good time, and if we got some purse money, well, that’s good, too. We feel good this is what we chose to do with our so-called retirement money. We’ve gone places we never thought we’d go to and we’ve met some great people and formed some great friendships.
Today, RTR has about 20 horses in training, and bunch of weanlings from Mucho Macho Man. They also breed and sell. Horses the couple have owned outright have earned nearly $6 million, and another $3.5 million in partnerships with the likes of R.A. Hill Stable, West Point Thoroughbreds and several others.
“Mucho Macho Man changed the whole deal for us — to come into this and now have a stallion at Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, and a trainer like Kathy Ritvo (Mucho Macho Man’s trainer),’’ said Reeves.
Of course, it’s not all peaches and cream. Expensive purchases, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, don’t pan out for a variety of reasons, including from even the most minor of injuries, or breathing issues or illness.
“This sport can be very tough. Sometimes, it’s hard to stomach and it gets very depressing,’’ said Reeves. You have to be resilient with that … The highs are so high, though, and I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s there … you meet all these people and it brings your family and neighbors and friends together. You can all go to a football game, but it’s not the same thing as going to the winner’s circle. Our fiends still talk about the races they went to. It’s just something a lot of people never experience.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.