The potential field for the May 19 Preakness Stakes grew more interesting Thursday when owner/trainer Mick Ruis said he would point Bolt d'Oro toward the race after previously saying his colt would return to California to regroup from a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Asked why he changed his mind, Ruis texted a photograph of Bolt d'Oro's hoof sinking into the deep mud at Churchill Downs during the Derby.
"I'm not going to let that race bring me down on my colt," he said.
Ruis stopped short of saying Bolt d'Oro can beat Derby champion Justify on a dry, fast track. After all, Justify handled his colt in the Santa Anita Derby as well.
But he was bullish on Bolt d'Oro's form coming off of the Derby, in which he moved to third at one point but then faded.
"Bolt came out fantastic," Ruis texted. "Looks like he never was in a race Saturday."
Instead of shipping his horse back to California, as he said he would do immediately after the Derby, Ruis moved him to Keeneland, where he has resumed training.
Ruis said that if he decides to enter Bolt d'Oro in the Preakness, he'll ship to Baltimore on the same Wednesday charter flight as Justify.
Meanwhile on Thursday morning, all eyes in the racing world turned to the track at Churchill Downs, where Justify galloped for the first time since he showed discomfort in his left hind heel the morning after the Derby.
The results were promising to those who've fretted about Justify's status for the Preakness.
"I was very happy with him," assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. "He went to the track perfect and galloped perfect. I couldn't be happier with him."
On a later conference call, trainer Bob Baffert said, "It's all behind us. We're on to Baltimore."
Rival trainers were also impressed.
"I'm not bubbling over with confidence that the Derby winner is going to get beat in Baltimore," said trainer Tom Amoss, whose horse, Lone Sailor, finished eighth in the Derby and is a candidate for the Preakness.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who plans to saddle two horses in the Preakness, observed Justify's gallop carefully.
After some confusion over the cause, Justify's injury has been officially labeled a bruised heel.
"He has dealt with a cracked heel off and on and that is typical of horses," said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of the Derby champion's co-owner, WinStar Farm. "The track was rough Saturday with all the rain. The first time we saw [the heel] was when he came out for you guys Sunday. We had to figure out what it was and work on it."
He and Baffert both said the injury did not worsen into a crack in this case. Justify wore a ¾ shoe Thursday to relieve pressure on the bruised area. Walden was on hand to watch his gallop.
"I thought he went great," he said. "The last couple of days he has looked good in the shed, but you never know until you get them out there."