11/02/2017 9:36AM

Local boy Ruis and his horse look to make good in Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Shigeki Kikkawa
Mick Ruis, who grew up in San Diego, owns and trains Breeders' Cup Juvenile favorite Bolt d'Oro.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Mick Ruis grew up in San Diego and remembers as a teenager attending the races at Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, with a friend.

“If we could ever save $3,000 to get a claimer at Caliente, our life would be fulfilled,” Ruis remembers the conversation going. “About $5 million later, we’re still trying to fulfill it.”

Now, 56, Ruis could fulfill one dream and fuel another as he brings the undefeated Bolt d’Oro to Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, about 30 miles from where Ruis wrestled at El Capitan High School in Lakeside, Calif. A victory by Bolt d’Oro would clinch an Eclipse Award as 2-year-old champion while stamping him as the favorite for next year’s Kentucky Derby.

In a race that will include runners from the high-profile barns of Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, and Todd Pletcher, it is Ruis who has the favorite and the horse to beat. After training horses from 2005-07 – he won 17 races from 161 starters – Ruis was out of the game for a decade while concentrating on running his business, American Scaffold, and raising his seven children with his wife, Wendy.

“My oldest child is 35, my youngest just turned 19,” Ruis said. “It’s mine and Wendy’s time to enjoy life now.”

The Ruises are certainly enjoying life with Bolt d’Oro, who Mick Ruis believes is a success story for the little guy.

“Ninety-percent of these high-priced horses go to 2 percent of the trainers,” Ruis said. “There are so many great horsemen back here that can train a horse.”

In 2016, Ruis sold 80 percent of his company, American Scaffold, the largest provider of maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for U.S. government ships, to the private equity firm J.F. Lehman. Ruis used some of that money to get back into the Thoroughbred business.

When Ruis first got back, he wouldn’t retake the trainer’s test to obtain his license. His stance was that he already had a license and there were trainers on the backside who hadn’t taken a test in decades, so why should he?

“I was too stubborn,” he said.

Ruis had his daughter Shelbe take the test and train the horses. That summer, the stable won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante with Union Strike.

Mick Ruis and his daughter had a disagreement that led to Ruis to hiring Craig Dollase to be his trainer. Ruis finally took his license out at the beginning of this year.

“It is hard working with family,” Mick Ruis said. “I was the boss. Anybody else would listen to you. Your children? Not so much.”

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Shelbe Ruis, 27, went to work for Richard Baltas before rejoining her father in April.

“There was tension for family visits,” Shelbe recalled. “Things are okay since I’ve been back.”

Mick Ruis, with assistance from Ike Green, who works on Ruis’s ranch in Montana, attended several yearling auctions. In 2016, he purchased a son of Medaglia d’Oro for $630,000. He turned out to be Bolt d’Oro.

“I wanted a longer-bodied horse, but I wanted him well balanced,” Ruis said. “After watching Arrogate’s stride and what he could do, that was the kind of horse we’re looking to buy.”

Ruis owns ranches in Descanso, Calif., and Big Fork, Mont. Ruis sent Bolt d’Oro to Montana, where Green, the man who picked him out the sale, trained him.

“Ike said it’s the best horse he’s ever been on,” Ruis said. “He’s a cowboy – cowboys don’t brag –and he said, ‘I’ve never been on something like this.’ When they started getting on him here in March, the riders were telling me he’s so [fluid], you don’t even know how fast you’re going.”

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Bolt d’Oro was fast enough to overcome slow starts to win his debut Aug. 5 at Del Mar by 2 1/4 lengths and the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity by three-quarters of a length. Shortly after the Del Mar Futurity, B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm purchased the breeding rights to the colt. Bolt d’Oro promptly went out to roll to a 7 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita.

“We had so many people wanting to buy the horse – crazy money, too,” said Ruis, who mentioned $10 million as the highest offer he turned down. “The thing was we have our own company, we have our own money. It was never about money. When Mr. Hughes came along and he had his jeans on, just like me, I said, ‘This is a man I want to do business with.’ ”

While his focus is on Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup, Ruis said he has allowed himself to look ahead to next spring and the Kentucky Derby, even if he won’t mention the race by name.

“We’re dreaming,” Ruis said. “We want to give him 60 days off after this. I’d like to go to the San Felipe then the Santa Anita Derby. If all goes good there, then the big race. I don’t want to mention it right now. We’ll just call it the big race.”

For now, Bolt d’Oro is the big horse.