By Christie DeBernardis
DEL MAR, CA–After several years as an owner and trainer, Mick Ruis left racing to earn the capital needed to operate at the highest level of the game. Now, nine years later, he is not only back in racing, but is the owner and trainer of an undefeated, two-time Grade I-winning juvenile, Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro), who is the morning-line favorite for the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar Saturday.
“I got back into it because I needed a good tax write off when I sold my company. My accountant said, ‘Well you messed that up. Now you are making money,'” Ruis said with a laugh.
Back in 1979, Ruis was an 18-year-old horse racing fan dreaming of the day when he could get $3,000 together to own a horse. Fast forward to 2001, Ruis was not only an owner, but was also his own trainer.
“I just loved the horses,” Ruis said in Del Mar’s Barn LL, where Bolt d’Oro is being housed. “I am one of those guys that just jumps in and I am not afraid to ask questions. I have 600 employees now and I always like to be the dumbest guy in the room and ask all the questions. People always say, ‘You ask this. You ask that. You must not know anything. You just like to listen to what everyone has to say and see what works for you.'”
Ruis did well, but was not able to compete at the level he wanted, so he took a hiatus and started a company now known as American Scaffold.
“One year we had the best win percentage at San Luis Rey, but it was just hard to compete with the Bob Bafferts of the world when we shipped out for the big races,” Ruis explained. “I said, ‘If I ever get back in it, I need to get back in in a way I can compete with them.’ I really needed money. So, I went back to work. We ended up being the largest supplier for scaffolding for the United States Navy fleet. We are on over 50 ships a day within the five different states we work. I am still the CEO. I started it from scratch with five guys and when I sold the majority share two years ago there were 500 employees and now there are 600.”
In 2016, Ruis began his reentry into racing, making his presence felt at the 2-year-old sales. He got a Grade I winner from that first crop in $375,000 OBSAPR buy Union Strike (Union Rags), heroine of last term’s GI Del Mar Debutante S.
“We spent about a $1.5 million that year and got Union Strike and a couple of other good horses,” Ruis said. “She paid for herself that year. We spent $1.9 million with the crop that we bought Bolt [d’Oro] in and he has earned a lot of money back. We have been very fortunate with the horses we bought.”
While Ruis, returned to racing as an owner in 2016, he did not return to training until earlier this year. His 26-year-old daughter Shelbe Ruis was the trainer of record for Union Strike’s Grade I victory and the horses were later transferred to Craig Dollase. The Ruis Racing string was then listed under Mark Rheinford’s name until Ruis’s license was reinstated this spring.
“Since it had been so long since I had been training, I had to take my test again,” Ruis said. “I am a pretty stubborn guy and I said, ‘You’re kidding me. I really have to take my test again.’ I waited and waited and the stewards said, ‘Mick, we see you out there training everyday.’ So, I went and took the test.”
The California native continued, “I am not a really good test taker because I didn’t finish high school. Shelbe, my daughter, schooled me a couple of nights. I took it and got a 98% and they said the only person that got as good of a score as I got was Shelbe. She is an assistant for us and is at the barn at Santa Anita while we are down here. She arrives Thursday.”
Ruis currently has 35 horses under his care and another 21 yearlings on his ranch in Montana, which is managed by Ike Green, who picks out and breaks all of Ruis’s horses.
“All of my horses, including Bolt, were picked out by Ike Green,” Ruis said. “This year Ike went back to Keeneland with my wife and myself and Eric Kruljac, who we have known for 25 years, and he helped us pick out horses. He has a great eye for a young horse.”
When asked why he chose Montana, as opposed to somewhere warmer, as the place to break his young horses, Ruis said, “I like the air there for them. I like the soil we have there in the Flathead Valley. When we break them, we take them on trail rides. They see deer, they see elk, they see all kinds of stuff. I walk down shedrows today and my wife can have a plastic bag and I say, ‘Be careful because you are going to spook a horse.’ A lot of horses are afraid bushes, bags, etc. When our horses get out there, they’ve seen it all. That is a testament to Ike. He said, ‘Boss, We have to let them be horses.'”
After Green breaks the horses, they are sent to Ron Glatt at San Luis Rey, who prepares them to join Ruis at Santa Anita. It was Green and Glatt that first identified Bolt d’Oro’s talent.
“He had such an athletic walk,” Ruis said. “We liked his long body and how balanced he was. When Ike got him on the ranch, and he is a cowboy and they don’t like to brag too much, he said, ‘Boss, I’ve been on a lot of horses, but I have never been on one that moves like him.’ I said, ‘You are just saying that because you spent 630,000 of my dollars.’ He said, ‘No, boss. He is the real deal.'”
He continued, “When he got down to San Luis Rey, the exercise rider said he moved like he wasn’t even touching the ground. We got him to Santa Anita and they said the same thing. We clocked him and he went :34 his first 3/8ths. We were like, ‘Whoa!’ He didn’t look like he was going that fast and he was so big. Then we just totally backed off because we didn’t want him to think he was a sprinter. He just has this natural speed and he eats up the ground and you don’t think he is going that fast until you look at your watch.”
Overcoming a slow start and being bumped by a rival to break his maiden impressively on debut sprinting at Del Mar Aug. 5 (video), Bolt d’Oro overcame another trouble trip to capture the seven-panel GI Del Mar Futurity Sept. 4 (video), which was the first Grade I score his conditioner.
“We didn’t think he would get wiped out at the gate and everything else, but he just bullied his way through and was much the best [on debut],” Ruis said. “That made me a little nervous because he was 3-5 that day, so I thought, ‘Wow, if we lose this, then I am really looking bad.’ In the Futurity, we went off at 7-2 and paid $9. I thought, ‘Well, I am not even supposed to win this.’ Bob [Baffert] had two and [Simon] Callaghan had one who was undefeated. I felt we had the best horse and he was much the best in that race.”
Bolt d’Oro proved more ground was even better for him with a dominant 7 3/4-length victory when stretched to 1 1/16 miles for Santa Anita’s GI FrontRunner S. Sept. 30 (video).
“We get to the FrontRunner and we are back down to 3-5 odds,” Ruis said. “I was a little nervous, but I actually felt the most confident in that race because he just showed us he wanted to go two turns all day long. When he came out of the Futurity at Del Mar he wasn’t blowing like all of the other horses. He needed more. I think we are on the right track. We just hope nothing happens between now and when he gets in the gate and everything goes smooth coming out of the gate. He should be tough.”
Less than a week after his FrontRunner victory, Spendthrift announced that they would stand Bolt d’Oro following the completion of his career in a 50/50 split with Ruis Racing.
“The only pressure I really feel at all is for his breeding when we eventually put him out to stud,” Ruis said. “It would be nice for him to go undefeated as a 2-year-old, win sprinting as a Medaglia d’Oro, win routing Grade Is, win the Eclipse Award. That is exciting and it would mean a lot for the breeders. I just a feel a little pressure to see what he can really do in this race. But, it’s all up to him.”
Drawn in post 11 for the Juvenile, the $630,000 FTSAUG grad was installed as the 9-5 favorite and will be piloted by regular rider Corey Nakatani.
“I like [the post] and Corey likes it,” Ruis said. “You have plenty of time to establish [position] and get out of trouble. I’d rather be there then be from the six-hole in. I’d say Corey would be right off the pace, not too far, kind of like the FrontRunner, but if no one goes, don’t be surprised if you see Bolt in the front.”
Ruis returned to the game with the goal of being competitive against the likes of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and with Bolt d’Oro he has achieved just that as he goes postward in the Breeders’ Cup as the favorite over horses conditioned by the likes of Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.
“Those guys are amazing with the stock that they’ve got,” Ruis said. “I asked Bob, because he has the wise words I guess, so I asked him, ‘Hey Bob, how do I go into the Juvenile race?’ He said, ‘Mick, when you’ve got a good horse like Bolt, he can train himself. As a matter of fact, my son Bode could train him.’ So I said, ‘Is that who trained American Pharaoh, Bode?’ He just grinned.”
Born and raised in San Diego, Ruis said winning his first Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, his hometown racetrack, would be extra special.
“It would be amazing [to win the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar],” Ruis said. “When my wife thinks about it, she just starts crying. She can’t believe all of the hard work and where he is. We have a lot of good horses in the barn that are coming up under our program, so we know it is working. We may not find another one like Bolt. We hope we do, but he is just special, really special.”