Another one of those Triple Crown chess matches appears to be on, with one trainer keeping his hand firmly on a pawn.
After a spirited run through the heart of the Kentucky Derby before a fade to 12th, Bolt d’Oro was unequivocally ruled out of the Preakness Stakes by owner and trainer Mick Ruis. Until, he unequivocally wasn’t.
Ruis reportedly told the industry publication BloodHorse “hell no” when asked if he had ruled out the Preakness, adding that “there’s no rush to send him back [to California]” after the El Cajon native initially indicated his star would ship back Tuesday.
Ruis said postrace that he would return to the West Coast to re-evaluate the race schedule, with an eye toward the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Except, Bolt d’Oro stayed in Kentucky.
“It means I’m enjoying [him] here at Keeneland. My farm is 4 miles away,” texted Ruis, who said he could talk later Wednesday but failed to return a call seeking comment.
Ruis could be playing coy, waiting to get a better handle on the health and status of dominant Derby winner Justify. The 4-for-4 phenom has won by an average of 5 ½ lengths, never had a horse finish closer than two, and raked in nearly $2.1 million despite being unraced as a 2-year-old.
Horse racing’s routinely hard-to-figure corner of the Internet nearly short-circuited Sunday when a video showed Justify appearing to limp on some gravel as trainer Bob Baffert walked him outside his Churchill Downs barn.
Baffert told the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman that Justify’s left-hind leg simply suffered from the equivalent of a common, irritating and short-term rash, made all the more believable after the wettest Derby in its 144 starts. He looked “fine” at the barn Monday, Baffert said.
“He goes back to track [Thursday] and looks like his hind-foot issue is resolved,” Baffert replied to the Union-Tribune on Wednesday via text. “Very happy with the way he looks today.”
Privman stood by Sunday as Justify appeared before media and onlookers.
“He looked to me like a horse who walked out of the barn sound, took a bad step when he put his foot down on the gravel and it seemed to sting him,” said Privman, who’s covered the last 27 runnings of the Derby. “Then when he walked him to the barn, he looked like he walked fine again.
“It seemed to me that it was a horse who took a bad step as opposed to a horse who had an issue with every step he took not being smooth.”
No one blinks when an NFL player seems sore on the Monday after a big game — let along the biggest game in horrible weather. No one wonders why Drew Brees hits the ice tub 24 hours after kickoff or Todd Gurley pops into the training room.
The true indicators are the practices as the week hums along.
What seemed surprising about the Bolt d’Oro situation, though: In the hours following the Derby, Ruis seemed clear-eyed about putting Kentucky and Justify in the rearview mirror.
“Do I want two [races in a row] against Justify, who looks like a monster?” he said late Saturday. “I’ll just get him back to California and we’ll look for another spot to run him.”
Ruis absolutely owns the right to change his mind and adapt to a potentially shifting big-race landscape. Remember, though, that the big carrot isn’t the purse money that would come from a win. The real payoff, once Derby dreams vanish, is to make your horse as profitable a breeder as possible.
Bolt d’Oro is contracted to stand at Spendthrift Farm immediately after the Pegasus World Cup in January. He could see his earning potential skyrocket if the resume is stamped with a Triple Crown victory.
When Ruis had time to fully sort scenarios after his dizzying first Derby, plenty of thoughts surely bounced around. If there’s a chance Baffert might be playing coy, too, do you wait as long as you can, avoid shipping across the country, and see if the Preakness somehow unfolds without the Derby winner?
The other thing: If Triple Crowns were easy to polish off, based on one blanket of Derby roses, there would be a whole lot more than 12 of them — and more than four since 1948.
History alone favors some four-legged script rewrite to rise from the field and clip Justify’s run. Maybe Ruis thinks, why not Bolt d’Oro? If it’s going to be someone, why not us?
After all, that Derby fade means the Belmont Stakes — a grueling 1 ½-mile test — makes zero sense. So after a little sleep, does a longshot run at the Preakness sound better than no shot at all?
The entry deadline for the second leg of the Triple Crown isn’t until Wednesday.
Until then, it’s Ruis’ move.