by Doug McCoy
Apprentice rider Michael Ritvo is off to a quick start. The 19-year-old won on the second horse he rode at Gulfstream Park on March 23 and has gone on to post 72 wins in seven months — an impressive beginning for someone who didn’t even consider becoming a rider until two years ago.
Ritvo won 29 races in Florida. Then the young apprentice came north, and the change of scenery hasn’t slowed him down a bit. He has won 28 races since September 3 at Delaware Park, which is behind only five other riders and ties him with last year’s Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, Victor Carrasco. He has also added wins at Laurel Park, Parx Racing, and Penn National.
Ritvo’s racing roots run deep. His mother Kathy , who survived heart transplant surgery in 2008, was the first female trainer to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic when she saddled Mucho Macho Man to take the 2013 Classic. His father Tim, a former rider, also trained until 2010 when he went to work in management at Gulfstream Park and since 2011 has been the President and General Manager of Gulfstream for the Stronach Racing Group. His uncle Nick Petro is a jockey, his uncle Mike Petro trains, and another uncle Louis used to ride.
All of which makes it seem natural that Ritvo would find his way into the saddle. Right?
Well, not exactly.
“I worked with horses when I was young. It was almost inevitable with Mom and Dad both in the business, but truthfully I wasn’t really thinking of doing anything in racing when I grew up,” Ritvo said shortly before he went into the jockeys’ room at Delaware Park last Thursday, “I graduated from high school and there was some talk about college but I didn’t see that as a way to go. Then I went to work at a place that set up trail rides. I worked there for a while, and of course you’re on a horse most of the day, and oddly enough it was while I was working there that I got to thinking about becoming a rider.”
Of course, the familial knowledge of the game didn’t hurt. “I talked it over with my folks and with my uncle Nick and earlier this year I started getting on horses in the morning every day,” Ritvo said.
For young riders, one of the benefits of being in the mid-Atlantic region is the sheer number of races run, which gives newcomers a chance to hone their craft quickly. Of course, you’re going to put a lot of miles on your car travelling to the different tracks. While Ritvo admits the travel is no fun, he also said that riding over different surfaces, as well as racing at night, has given him some valuable insights into how to adjust to different tracks and scenarios.
“It’s like riding at night under the lights,” Ritvo said, “Some horses really seem to enjoy it while others can be nervous and a little unsure of themselves.
“Of course I’ve won on six of the eight horses I’ve ridden at Penn (National), so right now I love racing at night,” he added with a chuckle.
Ritvo said he talks to his parents frequently and is also is in almost daily contact with Uncle Nick, who is Ritvo’s riding coach. “He watches the replays and is after me all the time about keeping my elbows in, getting my posture right, and all sorts of things,” the young rider said. “He gets after me a bit, but in a good way, and that’s OK. I want him to do that. I’ve still got a lot to learn and he’s been riding a long time. Anything he can pass on to me will only make me a better rider in the long run.”
Ritvo will be taking a big next step in his career when he heads to New York to ride in late November. Veteran agent Mark Mace, who has handled such standouts as Ramon Dominguez, Rosie Napravnik, Joe Rocco, and current Delaware Park leading rider Alex Cintron, took Ritvo’s book when he came to Delaware Park. While he’s sorry to see the young rider move on he wishes Ritvo the best and thinks he will turn a lot of heads in the Big Apple.
“Mike’s got a world of talent, and the best thing is, he’s still learning and getting better,” Mace said. “I’d love to have him stay but I understand why he wants to try the big leagues. I’ll be rooting for him and I think he’s going to make a big impression up there.”