At first glance there appeared to be nothing controversial about the stretch run of the $400,000, Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes.
Two horses — undefeated McKinzie and two-time Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro — laid it down for a full quarter-mile to the finish line in an as-advertised showdown.
Ruis Racing’s Bolt d’Oro made his move on McKinzie, who had stalked early leader Lombo for much of the 1 1/16-mile test, on the final turn, and even put a neck in front as the pair turned for home.
But the Street Sense colt, carrying the silks of Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman would not give in. Despite a few swishes of the tail, the Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie dug in on the inside and crossed the finish line a head in front of Bolt d’Oro. The top pair was 6 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Kanthaka in the blockbuster Triple Crown prep of the season.
But the inquiry sign flashed quickly after the race, as the stewards examined two incidents between the top two runners. The first contact between Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie came as they were exiting the final turn. The pair bumped and McKinzie, on the inside, nearly went into the rail. The second bit of bumping came as they neared the wire. McKinzie, who was being urged left handed by jockey Mike Smith, came out and leaned on Bolt d’Oro in the final sixteenth.
After an extended inquiry period, the stewards disqualified McKinzie from first to second, and elevated Bolt d’Oro to first.
“The first incident — we ultimately concluded that the video was inconclusive,” said steward Scott Chaney. “It was our opinion that from the pan [replay], it appeared [McKinzie] came out to make contact. From the quarter-pole [replay angle], it appeared the outside horse was actually coming in to make contact. We thought it was inconclusive as to who was culpable.
“Regarding the second incident, that one was obviously much easier. The video tape showed over the last sixteenth, the inside horse, McKinzie, was drifting out — probably about two paths — forcing [Bolt d’Oro] off his path, costing him the opportunity to gain the head he lost by.”
Although the stewards hesitated to answer a hypothetical situation, Chaney said, if they had conclusive evidence Bolt d’Oro was at fault for the first incident, it was a “fair assumption” the result would have stood. The decision to disqualify McKinzie was unanimous.
“If we entirely assigned the blame to [Bolt d’Oro] at the beginning of the stretch, there’s a good argument that [the fouls] could have been offsetting,” Chaney said.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
McKinzie’s connections did not agree with the decision.
“That last hit, where he hit me in the [butt], he turned me out,” Smith said. “I was just trying to ride my own race and he was on top of me. At the quarter-pole, after the quarter pole, and through the lane, he hit me and turned me out. I mean, he’s got the whole racetrack and he’s on top of me on the fence.”
“That’s some [expletive],” Baffert said. "[Bolt d’Oro’s jockey] Javier [Castellano] had a better story, I guess. I’m shocked, after the way he hit us at the top of the stretch. I don’t know what they’re looking at, but apparently he talked them into it.”
The Bolt d’Oro camp was unsurprisingly not as bothered with the decision, and owner-trainer Mick Ruis emphasized his pleasure with how the Medaglia d’Oro colt performed in his 3-year-old debut.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the inquiry the whole time,” Ruis said. “I was just so proud of Bolt, and if he got moved up, he did. This wasn’t the race we were really pointing for. We want to go to the Santa Anita Derby, but getting moved up is awesome.”
The final time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:42.71 on a track labeled fast, although rain did pick up at the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack just before and during the race. Lombo, the last-out Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner, set a pace of :23.50 through the first quarter, with a clear lead. McKinzie cut the margin to a head through a half-mile in :46.81, while Bolt d’Oro loomed in fourth. Lombo still held a head advantage through six furlongs in 1:11.34, but soon after it was more than apparent the race for first would be between the two favorites.
“I didn’t want to be too far back, and I think it was the perfect ride for him,” Castellano said of Bolt d’Oro’s trip. “I was concerned a little bit in the last part of the race, especially around the last sixteenth. I think that my horse tried to hold back to force inside and we had some contact. They say he tried to intimidate my horse and that is why I couldn’t get past him.
“I wish it would’ve just been the two horses running straight in the race. We were the best two horses in the race. I just want to see who the better horse is.”
The San Felipe was Bolt d’Oro’s third graded stakes win, following his Grade 1 scores in the Del Mar Futurity and the FrontRunner Stakes in 2017. It was his first race under jockey Castellano, who replaced regular rider Corey Nakatani for the San Felipe, and first start since finishing third in the Nov. 4 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar.
Bolt d’Oro, who was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm out of the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot, now has four wins from five starts and $816,000 in earnings. He was a $630,000 purchase by Ruis Racing from Denali Stud’s consignment to the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings.