Mick Ruis, a former high school wrestler from El Cajon who dropped out of school and became a millionaire in the scaffolding industry, is now the trainer and owner of the West Coast's most promising 2-year-old colt after Bolt d'Oro won the $300,000, Grade I Del Mar Futurity on Monday.
And what a character Ruis might be in the coming months if Bolt d'Oro, a $630,000 yearling purchase from the stallion Medaglia d'Oro, lives up to the potential Ruis sees in him. Just a peek into Ruis' shirt pocket provided a clue to his confidence based on the number of betting tickets crammed together.
"I'd show you my tickets, but I don't want the IRS to get me," he said.
Bolt d'Oro went off at odds of 7-2 and returned $9.80, $5.60 and $3.80 to bettors. Bolt d'Oro, under jockey Corey Nakatani, rallied to edge Zatter by three-quarters of a length in the seven-furlong race. Favored Run Away was third.
Bolt d'Oro is now two for two in his racing career and gave Ruis his first Grade I training victory. Ruis believes the horse's best days are ahead as the racing distance increases. The FrontRunner Stakes on Sept. 29 at Santa Anita is expected to be Bolt d'Oro's next start, followed by the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar.
"That's what I'm training him up to," Ruis said.
And Ruis is already doing a little Kentucky Derby dreaming.
"It's super exciting," he said. "Everybody wants to get to the Derby. I can't wait to see him in January when he starts filling out."
In the $100,000 Juvenile Fillies Turf, Terra's Angel won under jockey Sasha Risenhoover.
On closing day, Del Mar track officials could breathe a sigh of relief because of improved safety statistics in terms of fewer horse fatalities following more than $1 million in renovations to the dirt surface. Last summer there were 17 horse fatalities during training or racing. This summer's 36-day meet had an unofficial six fatalities, according to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. "It's a great improvement and a positive step forward," Arthur said.
There was increased focus on examinations by vets in trying to make sure horses were sound before being allowed to run, track president Joe Harper said.
Several trainers, however, have voiced disappointment in the track's inconsistency.
"I like to see horses finishing races, not staggering," trainer Peter Miller said. "That's where my frustration lies."
Miller said he's hopeful that this fall, with cooler temperatures, shorter days and expected moisture, the track surface will be more predictable for Del Mar's first hosting of the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 3-4.
Del Mar's Bing Crosby meeting starts on Nov. 1.
Los Alamitos will start its 12-day meeting on Thursday. It will run through Sept. 27.
Flavien Prat won the Del Mar riding title and Phil D'Amato and Richard Baltas tied for the training title with 18 wins each.