It was the race everyone came to see, a mini-classic. And the Kentucky Derby is still two months away.
Bolt D’Oro and McKinzie went stride for stride down the stretch of the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes, neither giving in during this major Kentucky Derby prep at Santa Anita on Saturday. It’s not a cliché to say they were both winners, because they were, but for different lengths of time.
McKinzie crossed the finish line first, by a margin called a head but which looked closer. But, Bolt D’Oro was awarded the win after the stewards took an excruciating 10 minutes to determine the winner and move Bolt D’Oro up and McKinzie down.
They were looking at two incidents, a bump at the top of the stretch that they found inconclusive and, then in the deep stretch, it was ruled McKinzie came out and ever so slightly impeded Bolt D’Oro.
“McKinzie came out under a left-handed whip and shifted … Bolt D’Oro out, off his path and cost him a better placing,” said Darrel McHargue, chief steward for the California Horse Racing Board. The vote of the three stewards was unanimous.
During the wait, both horses walked in circles as the rain picked up and the two large groups crowded in a winner’s circle too small for both and sprung umbrellas to try to stay dry.
Bob Baffert, McKinzie’s trainer, and Mick Ruis, Bolt D’Oro’s trainer, congratulated each other immediately after the race, both very happy with the initial outcome. Neither thought the order would be reversed.
But once the tote board blinked and Bolt D’Oro was placed first, Ruis let out a cry of, “We’re going to the Derby!”
The win in the 1 1/16-mile race was worth 50 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, assuring him a spot in the world’s most famous race.
Baffert was upset, as much about leaving the horses in the rain awaiting a ruling as losing the decision.
“Well, what the hell?” Baffert said. “What are you going to do? Apparently, [Bolt jockey] Javier [Castellano] should have been a lawyer. He had a better story, I guess. I am shocked after the way he hit us at the top of the stretch. I don’t know what they were looking at but apparently, he talked them into it. That’s why [stewards] should never talk to the jockeys. They should just watch it themselves.”
Baffert then turned and rushed from the winner’s circle, surrendering it to Ruis and his contingent.
Mike Smith, McKinzie’s jockey, was uncharacteristically angry over the decision.
“I was just trying to ride my own race and he was on top of me,” Smith said. “At the quarter pole, and 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 at the fence.”
The descriptions made it sound like roller derby, but in fact, the incidents were little more than invisible to the crowd of 17,377 who endured the bad weather.
Ruis, on the other hand, remained happy after the decision.
“Bringing him up was just a bonus,” Ruis said of Bolt D’Oro. “After the race I felt, even if we hadn’t had the inquiry, what he did from where he was nine weeks ago is phenomenal. He was about 80 percent ready for this race.”
Lombo went to the lead and held it for the first three-quarters of a mile, with McKinzie and Bolt D’Oro in perfect stalking position. McKinzie moved first on the far turn with Bolt D’Oro right behind. Bolt D’Oro briefly poked his head in front at the top of the stretch and then they ran stride for stride to the finish line. Kanthaka finished third followed by Peace, Ayacara, Aquila and Lombo.
Bolt D’Oro paid $4.40 to win, $2.60 to place and $2.20 to show. The $1 exacta of the best two horses in the race paid a minuscule $3.90.
Saturday’s race was Bolt D’Oro’s first since getting beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November. He was scheduled to run in the San Vicente in February but pulled a muscle, delaying his return until the San Felipe. Bolt’s performance was additionally impressive since he was coming off such a long layoff.
Ruis plans to bring Bolt D’Oro back for the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, a race he no longer has to win. Baffert, in an interview with TVG, said the decision left a “sour taste” in his mouth and may ship McKinzie out of town for his next race.
McKinzie, who has raced only four times, is 1-1 in steward’s decisions. In the Los Alamitos Futurity, he finished second to stablemate Solomini but was placed first when stewards determined that Solomini interfered with Instilled Regard.
Regardless of the next race, these 3-year-old colts seem destined to run against each other again, likely in the Kentucky Derby.
Did the race settle anything? Only that there is a great rivalry at hand that could help bring more excitement to horse racing.