MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno), hero of Fair Grounds' Risen Star S. (G2) a little less than five weeks ago and the strong favorite for Saturday's $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2), arrived back in New Orleans Wednesday from his Gulfstream Park home base and galloped once around the Crescent City oval Thursday morning immediately after the track renovation break.

The huge bay horse, seventeen hands and still growing, left the gathering of his multiple owners and attending media visitors somewhat awed when he emerged from his stall in Barn 6 and headed toward the track under regular exercise rider Mike Heera. (Photo Courtesy of Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)

"I think he looks a lot bigger now than he did when he was here for the Risen Star," said Dean Reeves of Reeves Thoroughbred Racing with a nod of agreement from co-owner Jim Culver of Dream Team One Racing Stable.

Trainer Kathy Ritvo, who accompanied the 2011 Triple Crown candidate on the equine charter flight from South Florida to New Orleans on Wednesday, was quick to agree.

"Sometimes, when  I come to the barn in the mornings this winter, I think he's gotten bigger overnight," Ritvo said. "But now, he's starting to fill out, too. He reminds me of a teenage athlete, a little leggy and gangly at first but quickly growing into his body."

Ritvo, as it is increasingly known, is a 41-year-old mother of two who is a big story herself. The conditioner had adjusted and is doing very well following a heart transplant in the fall of 2008.

"I've never had a horse as smart as this one is," Ritvo said. "Did you notice how when they were stretching his front legs when he was still in the stall he stretched his back legs on his own, just like an athlete would do? He knows how to take care of himself.

"He's ready to run," Ritvo added as she schooled the horse in the Fair Grounds paddock following the gallop. "I'm sure he remembers he's back where he was last month and I think he knows what he's supposed to do very shortly."

How does an owner feel in the last days before a big race like Saturday's Louisiana Derby -- centerpiece event of the local racing season and shortly to become the richest Thoroughbred race ever run in New Orleans?

"I think inside you get a little anxious," Reeves admitted, "but in this business you also have to have some quiet confidence in your horse. We just hope for a good race Saturday and hope we are fortunate enough to win it."