Puttingonthemist is a thoroughbred you’ll never likely to come across. She never accomplished enough to leave the claiming ranks. Was never seen by millions because she never paraded to the post in a fillies and mares Triple Crown race or any Breeders’ Cup event.
What sets Puttingonthemist apart from many other thoroughbreds was her conditioning and tutoring was done by Kathy Ritvo, a woman who came to training after getting her license at age 18.
Even with a number of successful on-track stars in her pedigree, the ebony-colored mare could never replicate the performances of relatives Seattle Slew, Roberto, Bold Ruler, Swaps, and Buckpasser.
She ran on turf courses, and had some middling success against her claiming colleagues at tracks like Gulfstream Park in Florida. But she had no signature racing style and was never able to splice together many quality races.
Maybe she wasn’t blessed with the most desired racing traits from her background relatives. She couldn’t outrun six-furlong sprinters or do enough to whirl through the stretch to overtake rivals going a mile. Longer distances like 10 or 11 furlongs weren’t her cup of tea, either.
To win, she had to assume a stalking position — whether it be at a mile or furlongs longer — and hug a pace that wasn’t too taxing while her riders put her in a comfortable rhythm that didn’t waste enegy. And that didn’t happen often enough or against any better competition to elevate her to stakes company.
Puttingonthemist was not all that photogenic. Her ribs could be seen. There were no discernible muscles to give her a powerful caboose. Her chest was not an engine to generate eye-popping, stretch-running drives.
She was pitch black in color and her coat had a glossy sheen at times, making her attractive enough, but not another Black Beauty, Black Stallion, or Ruffian.
Her stride and running movement were also as ordinary as most others. She possessed no quick burst of speed. No ground-eating strides that could produce a win in the last few jumps. No furious rallies coming from a furnace of energy.
But Puttingonthemist was trained by Kathy Ritvo, the sister of trainer Mike Petro and jockey Nick Petro. And the daughter of horse owner Peter Petro. Her husband is thoroughbred trainer Tim Ritvo.
Kathy Ritvo got just the birthday present she wanted when she turned 18 during a break in her nomadic life while working for her father at Suffolk Downs — she received her trainer’s license instead of long-stemmed roses or chocolates.
She was starting a career where she had little or no credit built up and the people who knew her were mostly friends of her father or brothers. In her early struggles, she had problems getting owners to accept her as an equal of more established trainers.
After years, she had a smallish record that showed 164 wins and only seven stakes among those victories.
Along her bumpy path, she was having health problems. Finally, in 2008, Ritvo was confined to a hospital for most of her days. Her heart’s muscle was deteriorating.
“In retrospect, I never realized how sick I was back then or why. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t do anything at all. I was on a list for a heart donor and was in and out of a hospital right up until the time we got the call.”
The “call” was a phone message giving Ritvo and a team of heart surgeons the information that a donor heart had been found that was right for the operation Ritvo required if she was to live. Her heart transplant operation was scheduled.
Ritvo was 39. Her children — a boy and girl — were 17 and 18 and had been watched after for a long time by Ritvo’s mother.
Her doctors looked on her as more than a folio of echocardiograms, ultrasounds, and other computer-generated records.
Said her cardiologist, Joseph Bauerlein, “She would come into the clinic before her transplant, and I would know what the tests showed — she had just very poor heart function. But just looking at her, with her attitude, it would be hard for most people to tell she was as sick as she was.”
Her hustand, Tim, said, “There were nights when she went to sleep that I wasn’t sure she’d be waking up in the morning. But she is as strong as anyone I know.”
Ritvo’s brother had died at 38 from the same heart disease.
“I was determined that my mother would not have to go through losing another child,” said Kathy.
Her operation lasted six hours. When she was released from the hospital after only seven days, her surgeon gushed that it was a “record time.”
Her previously active life, correct weight for age and height, and proper diet were all in her favor.
However, the determination and will to live she had sustaining her for those many years before the transplant weren’t there in her medical records. And that unwritten drive was more important than anything in her continuing on day after day.
Even today at age 42, she has to take 30 pills a day, anti-rejection medicine, and vitamins. The simplest infections are a danger. And stables, horse barns, and race track impurities are so much a part of her everyday life.
Once back to her race track routine, Kathy strived for normalcy.
She started doing a little light work with sponges, wrappings, buckets, hoses, and brushes. It wasn’t too long before she saddled one of husband’s thoroughbreds.
Kathy Ritvo was back.
Her husband accepted an administrative position at Gulfstream Park. Kathy took the horses he was training.
Jim Culver of Dream Team Racing said of her training ways, “She is maternal.”
Her husband said, “She’s very hands-on, very old-school. She seems to have a great feel for what any horse needs.”
Kathy’s long-term prospects are actually very good. Hearts that aren’t rejected can last for more than 20 years. And then another transplant is possible. Twenty years from now, what strides in the field will have been accomplished?
Ritvo saddled Puttingonthemist for most of her 30 starts. The gentle and cooperative black-haired, black-maned middle distance runner won four times, had three runner-up races, and was third once. To put an asterisk by what kind of races she was in, her total earnings were $47,469.
Recently, Ritvo had Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic where he finished a close-up second to Ft. Larned.
New heart. New vigor. New direction. But it was claiming horses like Puttingonthemist that sent Kathy moving upward and showed owners what her personal, unhurried, uncluttered style of training could accomplish.