Dream come true: Montana’s Bolt d’ Oro to run in Kentucky Derby
May 3, 2018
In August of 2016, Bolt d'Oro stepped out of the trailer at his new home outside of Bigfork, Montana. But he wasn't going to stay there long. He's been on the racing trail and has now made a stop that most running horses (or at least their owners) only dream of.
On Monday, the Thoroughbred arrived at Churchill Downs Park in Louisville, Kentucky, preparing to take on the field of 25 other Thoroughbreds in the Kentucky Derby.
Bolt is owned and trained by Mick Ruis, a San Diego raised, high school dropout who moved to Columbia Falls, Montana in the early 1990s and began his first construction company. A few years later, the family moved back to San Diego. He sold the company and got into horse racing. Montana was still on his mind. After less than notable success at the racetrack, he joined another company called American Scaffold, a small business with six employees. He soon became the sole owner, built the business to become the largest provider of scaffolding for the U.S. Navy, then sold his majority ownership in the company. Ruis moved his family back to the Flathead Valley of Montana, returning to where he loved and what he loved: horse racing.
He purchased a 148-acre piece of property outside of Bigfork and went about buying some horses. Little did he know that the first set of yearlings that would be sent to the Bigfork ranch would soon lead him to the Run for the Roses less than two years later.
Why bring race horses to Montana, though, when most Thoroughbred owners and breeders send their horses somewhere warmer? It's simple. Ruis loves the Columbia Falls area, the price was right, and Ruis's trainer at the new ranch, Ike Green, firmly believes that horses prefer the cooler weather to the warmer, humid weather farther south. Besides, training at elevation is beneficial for athletes of any species.
Bolt d'Oro was one of 200 colts consigned to the Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Yearling Sale. The sale is one of the premier Thoroughbred horse auctions in the world, even Man o' War passed through the sale ring as a yearling in 1918.
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Ruis trusted Green's eye for horseflesh and sent him to the Saratoga auction to find a long bodied, well balanced colt. Green and his wife narrowed down the offering to his top 100, then his top 30, then the top five. Bolt d'Oro was still his favorite and Ruis agreed.
"He told me I could go to 450,000 dollars and don't call him back because he wasn't going any higher," Green says. "He was watching the sale online and he texted me and said you can go to 500, but I was already in at 525 by then. Then when he texted me, 'You can go to 600,' I had already bought him for $630,000."
Green says he didn't study the pedigree, although Bolt d'Oro has a remarkable one that traces back to Secretariat on the bottom, but he says he was just looking for an athlete and that is exactly what they found in Bolt d'Oro.
When the colt arrived at the ranch in Montana, it was Green's job to get him started under saddle and ready to head to Santa Anita Park in California to begin his real training.
"I actually turned him out the first 30 days we had him because he was sick, then I broke him and rode him for about 45 days," Green says. "We did all sorts of stuff, I rode him though a wedding party once, I'd ride him through the trees and hills and you might have heard some stories where I roped some white tails off him, I didn't actually rope some but I thought about it."
The colt was certainly fast enough to catch them.
Green has been around race tracks since he was in high school in Kalispell where he began breaking colts and exercising them. He eventually wound up in the Texas and New Mexico area training race horses when he became friends with Ruis's son, Mick Ruis Jr., who is a successful jockey. When the elder Ruis, who admired Green's ability with horses and his honest attitude, offered Green the job at the ranch near Bigfork, Ruis didn't even know that Green was originally from the area.
Green and his wife recorded video of the colt as he ran, or rather, floated around his pasture in Montana and they knew he would be something special when he made it to the track.
When Green's wife, Aiden, was given the responsibility of naming the horse she chose Bolt, after the Jamaican sprinter Ussain Bolt, and d'Oro after the horse's sire, Medaglia d'Oro.
When describing Bolt d'Oro's attitude, ability and mind, all Green can say is that he is a classy horse.
"Class is horses with a high pedigree that are just natural," he says. "It doesn't take anything to break them. You put the bridle and saddle on them and they're good to go."
Starting Thoroughbreds is different than most Quarter Horses or your average ranch horse according to Green. They don't buck and they don't test their rider. By themselves, they overcome trainer error and jockey error, or any type of error on a human's part.
"It's hard to explain what class is," Green says. "They're smarter, these racehorses just have class and high pedigree."
After the colt arrived at Santa Anita in early 2017 when Ruis took over his training, the colt took to the track naturally.
"His mind is special," Ruis says. "I've run a lot of horses and none of them are like Bolt. Some are a bit more mellow, but his mind is the strongest thing on him."
It's unusual for an owner to also be the trainer of race horses, but Ruis has always been a "do it yourself" kind of man and he has worked hard to be successful in everything he's done, from building scaffolding to the the horse racing business.
After Bolt's first start, they began wondering if he could take on more distance when he raced. When he succeeded, they started to wonder if he could travel the mile and a quarter long track at the Kentucky Derby.
"We thought we might have something here, but it was a long road away at that time, and we hoped nothing would happen to him and he would make it," Ruis says.
Today, Team Bolt d'Oro is settled in at Churchill Downs, continuing to train and prepare for post time on Saturday, May 5. Green, his wife and children are there as well, ready to cheer on the bay colt that could have chased down white tails Montana.
"It's a dream to be here," Ruis says. "We have never thought we'd be here, especially only our second year back in racing. Hopefully he can bring us a championship back home to Montana."