By Joseph Wulffe (@Whtnbourbonguy on Twitter)
On May 5th, a distinct set of green and white silks, emblazoned with golden shamrocks will make their first-ever appearance in the Kentucky Derby aboard Bolt d’Oro. For trainer Mick Ruis and owner Ruis Racing, this has been an arduous journey. After an initial unsuccessful attempt at running a Thoroughbred racing operation in the early 2000’s, Mick Ruis returned to racing in 2016 and this second attempt has been much more rewarding.
Ruis Racing captured its first Grade 1 winner in 2016, when their two year old Union Rags filly, Union Strike won the Del Mar Debutante Stakes. Yet, it has been the early triumphs of Bolt d’Oro, a regally bred son of Medaglia d’Oro, which has thrust this emerging racing outfit into national prominence.
When Bolt strides onto the Churchill Downs main track in the late afternoon on Saturday May 5th, Mick Ruis will be hoping to accomplish a very unique feat that every trainer dreams of achieving: winning the Kentucky Derby in his or her very first attempt. Some of the individuals who have recently attained such an honor include: Jason Servis who won in 2004 with Smarty Jones and Bennie “Chip” Woolley who’s Mine That Bird captured the garland of red roses in 2009.
However, in order to properly analyze Ruis’s and Bolt’s chances of winning the Derby, a thorough examination of Bolt’s pedigree and past performances is required.
Bolt d’Oro’s sire is the Darley stallion, Medaglia d’Oro, who thus far has proven to be very impressive as he sired seven Grade 1 winners, on both turf and dirt, in 2017. Among some of his more notable progeny are the multiple Grade 1 winning mares Rachel Alexandra and Songbird, along with 2017 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic and fellow 2018 Kentucky Derby contender Enticed. A winner at the age of three in the 10 furlong Travers Stakes (G1), a winner at the age of four in the 9 furlong Whitney Handicap (G1), and with several runner-up finishes including the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup, Medaglia d’Oro quite simply excelled at the classic distances.
While Bolt d’Oro’s dam, Globe Trot, enjoyed limited success during her racing career, it is the career and reputation of Bolt’s damsire, A.P. Indy, which really stands out. As a three year old, A.P. Indy captured both the 12 furlong Belmont Stakes (G1) and the 10 furlong Breeders Cup Classic (G1). Yet, it was through A.P. Indy’s ability to pass on the incredible amounts of stamina in his bloodline that he became regarded as a breed-shaping sire and in fact is listed among the nearly 200 chefs-de-race (French for chiefs of racing or better translated as masters of the breed). The chefs-de-race are among the most influential sires in all of horse racing because of their ability to pass on their preferences for a particular racing style (sprinting, routing, etc). Upon initial review, Bolt appears to have a great deal of stamina in his pedigree which is ideal for being successful at the classic 10 furlong distance of the Derby; although, some deeper digging into his bloodlines unearths a couple of concerning issues.
One useful tool when analyzing a horse’s bloodlines is dosage, which is a mathematical analysis of the strengths in a thoroughbred’s pedigree based upon the location of certain outstanding sires in its family. From dosage, both Dosage Profiles (DP) and Dosage Indices (DI) may be derived, which can often give a good indication as to which distances a horse may be best suited. Dosage is dependent upon the amount of inherited influence from the chefs-de-race in the horse’s pedigree. A Dosage Profile consists of five numbers with each number relating to one of the categories of racing styles that a chef can pass on; these categories range from Brilliant (horses that possessed great speed and excelled at sprint racing), to Classic (horses that dominated at distances ranging from 9 to 12 furlongs), to Professional (horses that possessed incredible stamina and often won at distances greater than a mile and a half or longer).
Meanwhile, a Dosage Index is a ratio of the speed points to the stamina points found in a Dosage Profile. Horses that have higher Dosage Index values tend to possess more speed while those with lower values often have more stamina. The DP value for Bolt’s sires going back four generations reads as 7-11-12-2-0, while his DI is 3.00 (which is significant as a horse with a DI value above 4.00 has rarely ever won the Kentucky Derby). The numbers for Bolt are quite good and indicate that he has inherited a great deal of stamina. These kinds of numbers are ideal for a horse contesting the 10 furlongs of the Derby. However, it is when the mare profile in his pedigree is examined that concerns arise.
The profile values for the mares in Bolt’s pedigree are 11-2-2-4-10. This indicates that the mares offer up a lot of additional sprinting speed while providing almost no stamina for distances ranging between 7-13 furlongs. Yet, Bolt’s mare profile is somewhat unique in that there is an almost equal distribution between both the speed and stamina numbers. When such a situation arises, often a horse will theoretically remain in the middle of its numbers, favoring neither the inherited speed nor the inherited stamina portions of the pedigree. This is a less than ideal scenario for a horse looking to contend in the Derby. However, at this point in his career, it is entirely possible that Bolt is being influenced by the Professional side of his mare profile which would serve to add additional stamina to his running abilities.
Conversely, it is also probable that Medaglia d’Oro is such a dominant sire that this has allowed Bolt to overcome the limitations of his mare profile. One additional statistic that needs to be discussed is the Center of Distribution (CD). While there is a complex formula involved for calculating CD, essentially CD marks the balancing point of all the numbers in the DP and helps to indicate the ideal distance at which a horse will be successful. CD is listed as a scale ranging from +2 (which corresponds to the Brilliant category) to 0 (Classic category) to -2 (Professional category).
Furthermore, as the value for a horse’s CD increases, the distance that a horse can carry any inherited speed decreases. Bolt’s CD value is 0.72 which is quite good and when combined with his DP, this indicates that his great stamina will likely be able to carry all that speed he possesses over the 10 furlong distance of the Derby. While Bolt’s pedigree essentially represents an intriguing blending of outstanding stamina combined with blazing speed, any enthusiasm garnered by the pedigree analysis must be tempered when looking at Bolt’s recent racing record.
A first-time out maiden winner back in August of 2017 over a fast 6 furlongs at Del Mar, Bolt would race next in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) in which he broke slowly under jockey Corey Nakatani and had to close late down the stretch to finish first by ¾ of a length. This race served as his prep for the FrontRunner Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita in September. In that race, Bolt broke much more alertly and Nakatani had him stalking the pace going into the final turn before Bolt unleashed his kick down the stretch and drew clear of his rivals (including Derby contender Solomini) by 7 ¾ lengths.
Bolt’s win in the FrontRunner secured his entry into the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and garnered him his highest Brisnet speed rating of 105 at the 1 1/16 mile distance. In what was to be Nakatani’s final start in the irons, Bolt bobbled at the start of the BC Juvenile (G1) almost instantly taking him out of the race. Even though Nakatani tried to urge him to get up into contention, when Bolt went wide in the final turn, his chances of winning were over. In the end, Bolt ended up losing the race to Derby rivals Good Magic and Solomini by 5 ¼ lengths and Mick Ruis was forced to find a new jockey.
With new jockey Javier Castellano aboard, Bolt would return to racing in March of 2018 after being entered in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. Breaking alertly from the gates, Castellano immediately guided Bolt into an ideal stalking position down along the rail where he was able to rate just off the leaders before making his move in the final turn. Bolt was side by side with McKinzie coming out of the turn and it was at this point that some significant bumping occurred as neither horse could shake clear of his rival. McKinzie ultimately ending up edging out Bolt to finish first by a head but after a lengthy stewards’ inquiry was taken down and Bolt was promoted to first.
Bolt’s most recent performance came this month in the Santa Anita Derby as he faced off with the highly-touted Bob Baffert colt, Justify. In what was essentially a two-horse race, Bolt stalked the speedy Justify for much of the trip before trying to move alongside in the final turn, albeit with a lot of urging from Castellano. The closest Bolt ever got to Justify was about one length back and when asked for more by Castellano, Bolt simply didn’t respond thus allowing Justify to kick clear of his rival down the stretch by a good three lengths.
Although Bolt earned a career high Bris speed rating of 110 in the Santa Anita Derby, it is somewhat concerning that Bolt has not actually won a race since September of last year. Yet all may not be lost and the reason for this optimism comes in the form of the third and latest jockey to take the irons aboard Bolt.
The name Victor Espinoza is almost synonymous with success in the modern-era of the Kentucky Derby. In nine lifetime Derby starts, Espinoza has finished 1st three times (War Emblem in 2002, California Chrome in 2014 and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015). Furthermore, he has served as Bolt’s exercise rider during training and workouts since early on in this colt’s career. So when Castellano made the jump to the Todd Pletcher trainee Audible and temporarily left Mick Ruis without a rider, it was quite an easy decision to approach Espinoza and ask him to ride Bolt in the Derby.
Bolt’s most successful running style has been when he sits back and rates just off the pace before trying the contest for the lead in the latter stages of the race. While this would be an ideal racing style in most editions of the Derby, unfortunately for Bolt this year’s field is loaded with numerous other contenders who can employ similar strategies such that it is very unlikely Bolt will be alone striking for the lead in that final turn. However, Espinoza is a master tactician and there is no doubt that he should be able to give Bolt a good ride and have him in contention as the field makes its way for home.
Moreover, Bolt has been training well since the Santa Anita Derby. On April 22nd, with Espinoza aboard, Bolt rocketed through a 7 furlong drill in an impressive 1:24 1/5. He will have one final workout on April 28th prior to shipping to Churchill Downs.
Bolt d’Oro is an immensely talented colt with a very impressive sire pedigree to support that talent and he certainly has the potential to succeed at a mile and a quarter. Perhaps with a good clean trip and an accomplished Derby veteran in the saddle, Bolt d’Oro will finally return to his winning ways.
photo by Holly M. Smith (@kyholmarie on Twitter)