LAS VEGAS — How is it that two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup – and barely two weeks into October – that one 2-year-old colt seems to be attracting all the money in futures betting on the Kentucky Derby?
It’s simple. The well-bred Bolt d’Oro has not missed a beat since he was born on a Kentucky farm just 32 months ago. Undefeated in his three races, including two Grade 1s, he is not only a certain favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4 at Del Mar, he already has been bet down to a 10-1 favorite at Wynn Las Vegas to be in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs in 6½ months.
“I don’t really pay much attention to those Vegas odds,” Bolt d’Oro’s owner-trainer Mick Ruis said. “But I started reading about this, and I went wow. We haven’t even seen that in a long time.”
“He’s the now horse,” said Johnny Avello, Wynn’s race book manager. “There’s always a horse that looks the best now. Everybody piles on. But people who are looking for value – if Bolt d’Oro was 40-1 – they wouldn’t even touch him. That’s why I keep pushing him up, but people keep betting him. So if they’re going to bet him at 10-1, go ahead.”
So why Bolt d’Oro? He is not the only undefeated 2-year-old out there. But yes, since he was sired by Medaglia d’Oro out of an A.P. Indy broodmare, he hit the lottery in the gene pool. And yes, he won the FrontRunner Stakes three weeks ago at Santa Anita by 7¾ lengths. And yes, he has shown he can win by stalking the pace or coming from behind. And yes, his supporters continue to be buoyed by mornings like last Sunday, when he turned in a 48.80-second half-mile under hand urging from his regular jockey Corey Nakatani, going the last furlong in 11.60 seconds.
“He absolutely will grow and get bigger and stronger,” Ruis told VSiN this week from his home base in Arcadia, Calif. “This is not like seeing a teenager in junior high that has hair, and the others haven’t hit puberty yet. He’s still growing and still learning. He’s super mellow. Corey says he can jog to walk to cantor to gallop when he’s asked. He’ll do it for you.”
But 10-1 to win the Derby on Oct. 16? Beware the Ides of October (give or take a day). Since we are talking about a southern California horse, and since Val Kilmer once said Hollywood “does eat its young,” let the deconstruction of Bolt d’Oro begin.
First, all his successes have come at Del Mar and Santa Anita. Never mind track surfaces. The fact is he has not shipped since he came to California from Ruis’s Montana farm, where he was sent after Ruis bought him for $630,000 last year at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select sale. Unless he walks to Louisville, he will not win the Kentucky Derby without being shipped.
Second, Ruis just came back to training in 2015 after 12 years off from racing. He spent that time focused on his scaffolding business in San Diego that made him rich – rich enough to pay $1 million to be one of the first stakeholders in last January’s inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational. (He did not renew for 2018. “Why don’t I spend the $1 million on yearlings?” he said. “Then I spent $2.4 million.”)
Third, a bet on Bolt d’Oro – or any other Derby candidate – presumes he will make it through the winter prep season, collect enough points to get in the Derby, not be surpassed in physique by another growing 2-year-old, not draw the “1” hole at Churchill Downs, not be turned off by the track or that day’s weather or a traffic jam coming out of the gate and, most important and precarious, not get hurt.
“So far so good,” Ruis said. “He has never taken a wrong step.”
Comparing and contrasting the other early betting choices for the Derby, Montauk (25-1) was also sired by Medaglia d’Oro, and his only result so far for trainer Todd Pletcher was a victory two weeks ago at Belmont Park in a maiden race – albeit by 11¼ lengths as an even-money favorite. Then there is The Tabulator (35-1), undefeated through three races and already a winner at Churchill Downs in last month’s Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes.
Futures players are not the only ones putting big bets down on Bolt d’Oro. Despite a racing résumé that is only 2½ months old, he already has his stud future mapped. Wayne Hughes, who once had George Steinbrenner as a racing partner, made a deal with Ruis that commits Bolt d’Oro’s stallion career to his Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. Even Secretariat’s groundbreaking $6.08 million syndication deal in the winter of 1973 did not come so soon in his racing career.
“I was nervous enough of the colt seeing how good he was getting and doing,” said Ruis (rhymes with Lewis). “We’re never going to sell the colt – absolutely not. When we retire him, Mr. Hughes owns 50 percent of the breeding rights, and we own 50 percent. He gave us a nice amount of money with bonuses and kickers going down the road. This takes a little of the pressure off.”
Trying to weigh Bolt d’Oro’s value against previous Kentucky Derby winners is difficult to fathom before the first of the year, when the winter book is traditionally measured. Always Dreaming was 200-1 and without a win last fall, six months before he won the Derby. Last year’s 2-year-old champion Classic Empire, just retired to stud this week, was the 7-1 Derby favorite at Wynn last Jan. 1 only to finish a troubled fourth in the Derby.
Ruis knows all too well that a lot can go wrong between now and the actual Run for the Roses. But he is still confident in what he has with Bolt d’Oro.
“He’s fit,” Ruis said. “We saw what he did in the FrontRunner. We knows he has the air. He was the only horse that didn’t look tired, and he won the race by (nearly) eight. He looked like he could go a mile-and-a-half.”
And considering the length of the races in the Triple Crown, that last remark certainly hints at the long view for Bolt d’Oro. But Avello said even though Wynn stands to take “a pretty good loss” if Bolt d’Oro were to win the Derby, “I’m not concerned right now, because we’ve got so long to go.”
Former champion Classic Empire is retired
The path from promise to disappointment was a wide one for Classic Empire. Unable to be fully fit in two weeks for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, last year’s 2-year-old champion was retired to stud this week at Coolmore in Kentucky – five months after his last race.
“I could never get him completely over his foot abscess,” trainer Mark Casse said in a news release posted by Coolmore America. “It wasn’t possible to train him the way I needed in order to bring him back at the highest level, which is where he deserved to be.”
The colt sired by Pioneerof The Nile won three Grade 1 races including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But in addition to hoof and back trouble, Classic Empire’s ornery side came out as a 3-year-old. More than once he refused to break off full gallops in training. His thrilling stretch duel with Cloud Computing left him to finish second in the Preakness in what turned out to be his final race.
“His brilliance on the track is reinforced with a pedigree full of black type that traces back to Harlan’s Holiday,” said Charlie O’Connor, director of sales for Coolmore’s Ashford Stud. “We couldn’t be more excited to be standing him.”
Ulysses skips U.K. for another Breeders’ Cup
The likely second betting choice for Saturday’s $1.7 million Group 1 British Champion Stakes at Ascot will skip the race and get a second shot at the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Ulysses, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, finished third nearly three weeks ago in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France. The 4-year-old colt sired by Galileo finished fourth to Highland Reel in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.
After his stable mate Enable won the Arc, Cracksman (2-1) is the favorite to win the Champions Stakes. Trained by John Gosden, the 3-year-old Frankel colt won the Group 2 Prix Niel last month at Chantilly but was held out of the Arc to set him up for this race. Frankie Dettori, who rode Enable in her Arc win, will be aboard Cracksman.
Royal Ascot-winning Godolphin colt Barney Roy (4-1), Stoute-trained Poet’s Word (13-2), two-time French Group 1 winner Brametot (15-2) and six-time Group/Grade 1 winner Highland Reel (9-1) are also in the 10-horse field. Saturday’s Ascot feature at 10:50 a.m. EDT will be over 1¼ miles of turf.
Also on Saturday’s British Champions Day turf card:
* Order Of St George (11-10), fourth in the Arc, is favored to win the Group 2 Long Distance Cup over two miles at 8:25 a.m. EDT.
* Two-time Group 1 winner Harry Angel (11-10) is heavily backed in the Group 1 Sprint Stakes over six furlongs at 9 a.m. EDT.
* Journey (3-1), trained by Gosden, is bidding to repeat her victory in the 1½-mile Group 1 Fillies & Mares Stakes. Journey and French Group 1 winner Bateel (3-1) are co-favorites for the race that starts at 9:40 a.m. EDT.
* Godolphin colt Ribchester (2-1), winner of the Queen Anne during Royal Ascot, is favored to win over the same one-mile course in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 10:15 a.m. EDT.
Rain and 27 mph wind are forecast for southern England on Saturday, but the Ascot course is expected to be rated good.
Racing notes: Always Dreaming will race on
* Recovering from summertime stomach ulcers, Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming will return to the track next year and race as a 4-year-old, WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden said in a news release this week. The colt sired by Bodemeister last raced in late August, finishing ninth in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
* Gun Runner, the 6-5 favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, has been committed to race in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park, according to a tweet from Three Chimneys Farm. He would have been in the inaugural edition of the race this past year were it not for an equine-herpes quarantine that forced him to stay put at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
* An organized boycott by bettors upset with higher takeouts has contributed to an 8.6 percent drop in the handle midway through the fall meet at Keeneland. Track leaders decided to raise takeout rates to the maximums allowed under Kentucky state law except for Pick 5 bets. According to the Daily Racing Form, handles nationwide except for Keeneland are up 5.1 percent, suggesting that bettors have taken their money elsewhere. Keeneland officials say that declines have only been seen on some days with increases on others.
* Five-time graded-stakes winner Effinex died from a pulmonary aneurysm Wednesday at his barn in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., according to a news release from McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds. The 6-year-old horse won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap in 2015, a month after he finished second to American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Sired by Mineshaft, Effinex last raced to a sixth-place finish in last year’s Clark Handicap before he was retired to stud.
* Caulfield Cup contender Admire Deus suffered life-threatening damage to his suspensory ligaments during a workout Wednesday in Australia. The 6-year-old horse based in Japan broke down at Warrnambool, 150 miles west of Melbourne. Coolmore colt Johannes Vermeer (7-2), trained by Aidan O’Brien, is now the top choice for the $2.35 million Group 1 race over 1½ miles of turf. O’Brien is one win short of the late Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Grade/Group 1 training victories in a single calendar year.