Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
The series continues this week with Mick Ruis, owner and trainer of Bolt d’Oro, the top-ranked 3-year-old in the weekly poll conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Bolt d’Oro, purchased by Ruis Racing for $630,000 as a yearling, debuted this season by winning the March 10 San Felipe Stakes via the disqualification of McKinzie after the two made contact during a scorching stretch duel.
The son of Medaglia d’Oro makes his final start before the Kentucky in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday at Santa Anita Park in what looms as a showdown with highly regarded but still untested Justify, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
Ruis, who grew up in El Cajon, Calif., was a high school dropout who eventually made a fortune in the scaffolding business before he turned his attention to racing.
PEDULLA: How is Bolt d’Oro since the San Felipe?
RUIS: He’s doing fantastic. He was tired after that race. He gave it his all and I would say he was 70 to 80 percent fit. I thought I’d have to carry him into the winner’s circle after that race. He never missed a meal. That night he didn’t miss. I think he’ll go into the Santa Anita Derby with about 20 pounds more than he went into the San Felipe.
PEDULLA: Was the San Felipe a much tougher race than you would have liked?
RUIS: No. He’s fit and battle tested. I thought it was just what we needed. When you say, ‘Was it too tough or not?’ I would say no, because he wouldn’t have come back as good as he was.
PEDULLA: Were you upset that he was not honored as 2-year-old champion after a wide trip contributed to a third-place finish in the [Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup] Juvenile? Did you think you had done more overall than Good Magic, the first maiden to win the Juvenile?
RUIS: I was upset for Bolt. For what they did in the body of the year, it’s ridiculous to see that. But that’s what it is when you leave it up to somebody else. My boys were all champion wrestlers, and I always taught them we train harder, we work harder, and we don’t leave it in the hands of the referee. It was hard to see how we didn’t win the Eclipse Award, but you know what? We left it in the hands of the voters, and that’s what we got.
PEDULLA: What are your expectations for the Santa Anita Derby?
RUIS: We expect him to run a really big race. He’s training really great. Of course, we’re going up against Bob [Baffert] again. He keeps coming at me. He keeps firing bullets.
PEDULLA: What do you think of Justify? Is he imposing?
RUIS: He’s a beautiful colt. He’s got a good pedigree. His stride is incredible. We’ll test his heart now. We know he can run. We know he’s fast. Now, he gets battle tested.
PEDULLA: What does it mean to have Javier Castellano as your rider?
RUIS: Javier is such a class act, a good, family man, very respectful, very appreciative just to be on the horse. For him to win four consecutive Eclipse Awards, could you ask for anyone better? I say no.
PEDULLA: Is Bolt working as well as you want him to?
RUIS: He’s working better. He’s by Medaglia d’Oro out of an A.P. Indy mare. He’s supposed to get better as he gets older. He’s showing us he’s way better than he was as a 2-year-old.
PEDULLA: In what ways?
RUIS: His body structure. He always had the mind of an older horse, even as a 2-year-old. That was one of his assets.
PEDULLA: What about the Derby distance?
RUIS: I think he’ll love every inch of a mile and a quarter. We’ll find out Saturday when he goes a mile and an eighth, but there is no sign of any limitation.
PEDULLA: What do you need to get out of the Santa Anita Derby?
RUIS: I just want him to come back sound and go on to the Derby. If we don’t win this race, it’s not the end of our world. We just want to run a good race and progress off of it and peak on May 5.
PEDULLA: What does the Derby mean to you?
RUIS: It’s a dream come true. It’s something anybody in racing would love to win and pass it down to your kids. It means everything. It’s just incredible.