Bolt d’Oro goes up against rival Justify in Santa Anita Derby


Mick Ruis and his wife, Wendy, were standing near the rail at Santa Anita’s Clocker’s Corner early Friday morning waiting to see their horse, Bolt d’Oro, take one final gallop before Saturday’s $1-million Santa Anita Derby.

He was excited, energized, looking forward to the most anticipated Kentucky Derby prep race in the country.

“See this?” Ruis said, picking up a copy of Saturday’s Daily Racing Form with a big picture of his horse’s chief rival, Justify, on its cover. “It’s awesome because I don’t have to look at my horse. The pressure is off. They all pick Justify to win, which is awesome for us.”


Bolt d’Oro should be the logical favorite. The colt has four wins in five races, including two Grade 1s. He also won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes a month ago, after being placed first by disqualification over McKinzie, who because of injury is off the Kentucky Derby trail.

Justify, the 4-5 morning line favorite over Bolt d’Oro’s 6-5, has run only two races, a maiden special weight and a $56,000 allowance race for 3-year-olds. But how he won it, effortless and by a combined 16 lengths, has him ready to climb to the top of every Kentucky Derby prediction list.

Oh, he also has, arguably, the best trainer in the business in Bob Baffert, who has won seven Santa Anita derbies, four Kentucky derbies, six Preakness Stakes, two Belmont Stakes and one Triple Crown.

“I told someone the other day that if Bolt was trained by Bob Baffert, and I trained Justify,” Ruis said with a laugh, “I’d probably get 4-1 and he’d get 1-9. So that’s a good thing for me.”

Baffert somewhat agrees with the hypothesis.

“I don’t see making my horse 4-5,” Baffert said. “He’s only had two races.”

In fairness, the morning line, prepared at Santa Anita by Jon White, is not a prediction of who will win but how the betting public is expected to bet the race. And the public loves a fresh story of a horse who is so good he could possibly be the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby after being unraced as a 2-year-old.

“This is another good measuring stick for Bolt, to see how good he’s going to be if Justify is as good as everyone is saying,” Ruis said. “I watch him train every morning, incredible. And, what can we say about the trainer? He’s won everything under the moon.”

Bolt d’Oro has already qualified for the Kentucky Derby with 64 points. Justify has to finish at least second to qualify; he has no points. Yet, it’s as if the two trainers have flip-flopped on how they should intuitively view the race.

“A lot of people are saying we don’t have to win this race,” Ruis said. “They say, ‘We’re in the Derby, don’t take too much out of Bolt.’ I say BS. Bolt’s a warrior. Bolt’s going to run.

“I’m giving one instruction to [jockey] Javier [Castellano]: Don’t be more than a length and a half off Justify the entire race. When the running starts, we’ll see how good Bolt is. [Justify] is supposed to be really special and I would rather know now than have to wait until the Kentucky Derby to find out.”

Baffert is approaching the race with the calm of someone who has been there before.

“This will be a good race for him,” Baffert said. “We all want to see a race where he looks like he’s a good fit for the Kentucky Derby. The raw talent is there. He’s up against some nice horses. … [The ownership group] doesn’t want to go to the Kentucky Derby unless we feel there is a chance to win it. If not, we’ll just wait for the Preakness.”

Bolt d'Oro, left, with jockey Javier Castellano, left, battles McKinzie and Mike Smith down the stretch before being declared the winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 10.
(Benoit Photo / Associated Press )

The seven-horse field in the 1 1/8-mile race has one other colt that could be a factor. Instilled Regard, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, is the 5-1 third choice. He won the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, but ran a disappointing fourth in the Risen Star Stakes. He has 19 Kentucky Derby points and could make the 20-horse field by finishing third or better.

A big crowd is expected for Saturday’s much larger-than-normal card of 13 races. The Santa Anita Derby is the ninth race around 4:15 p.m. There are six other stakes races on the program, including one for Arabians. The best of the others is the Santa Anita Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies.

But all the attention will be on the Santa Anita Derby, with the winner, if it’s Bolt d’Oro or Justify, coming out of the race as the likely Kentucky Derby favorite.

“Mick bought this horse, put up his own money, good for him,” Baffert said. “He’s enjoying it. … There’s no pressure. The only one he can be mad at is himself. … I wish I owned Justify. I would be a little bit more relaxed. I’d be like Mick, all giddy and stuff.”

The likelihood is Saturday is only round one, with another meeting set for Churchill Downs.