The Preakness is the second leg of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown and trainer Kathy Ritvo is on a mission this Saturday to show that her third place finish in the Kentucky Derby with Mucho Macho Man was no fluke. Only one other female trainer, Shelley Riley did better in the Derby, with a second place finish in 1992 with Casual Lies. As Ritvo heads for Pimlico Racetrack in Maryland, she faces even greater odds. There has never been a female trainer with a horse entered in the Preakness – and probably no male trainer with Ritvo’s history: she had a heart transplant in November 2008.
In interviews, Ritvo is enthusiastic and upbeat. She told USA Today that she doesn’t try to be a role model for female trainers, but added she’d be flattered if she is.
“If I am, that would be great,” she told reporter Jesse Halladay, “but they just need to hang in there like me.” She added that there’s a lot of good days and a lot of bad days. “You hold on to the good days and forget the bad days.”
Ritvo shared the spotlight in making Kentucky Derby history for women with jockey Rosie Napravnik, who had a ninth place finish with longshot Pants on Fire to make her the highest finishing jockey of her gender. Napravnik credits the first and second generations of women jockeys who opened the doors for her— including 11th place finishers Patti Cooksey in 1984 and Julie Krone in 1995.
As Ritvo now prepares for the Preakness and another shot at first place, she might be inspired to ignore the naysayers by noting how trainer Steve Asmussen conditioned Rachel Alexandra for an historic upset in 2009: she was only the fifth filly to win the Preakness and the first horse of either gender to win from the farthest outside position – the 13th post. Rachel Alexandra went on to become horse of the year and is now retired in glory.
In fact, the Triple Crown always remains a place where entrepreneurs of either sex can be reminded that records – and traditions – are meant to be broken. For Ritvo, the Preakness is a chance to claim another milestone in history for women. She’s still hanging in there.