In a race that exceeded expectations in drama, excitement and controversy, Bolt d'Oro was awarded victory by way of disqualification of McKinzie in Saturday's San Felipe Stakes.
The two leading Triple Crown candidates ran the gauntlet from the top of the stretch to the wire in the mile and one-sixteenth race that awarded 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner and 20 to the runner-up, and at the finish, McKinzie, on the rail under Mike Smith, had a head over Bolt d'Oro and Javier Castellano, each horse carrying 124 pounds.
Following a lengthy stewards' inquiry and Castellano's claim of foul, however, McKinzie's number was taken down for bumping incidents in the stretch and Bolt d'Oro was moved into first for a victory worth $240,000.
Speaking on behalf of stewards Grant Baker, Scott Chaney and Kim Sawyer, CHRB Chief Steward and former Eclipse Award-winning jockey Darrel McHargue issued the following statement regarding the San Felipe DQ:
“It was a unanimous vote, yes. There were two incidents at the top of the stretch. The shots that were shown were inconclusive as to who initiated the contact at the top of the stretch. So they couldn't be clear on any one horse. The incident near the sixteenth pole was clear.
“McKinzie, number four, came out under a left handed whip and shifted number one, Bolt d'Oro, out, off his path and cost him a better placing. The margin of win was only a head, so therefore, McKinzie was taken down.”
Both Bolt d'Oro and McKinzie exited Saturday's controversial San Felipe Stakes in good order, according to drf.com. Though McKinzie crossed the wire a head in front, he was disqualified for interference in the stretch and Bolt d'Oro was declared the winner. Trainer Bob Baffert was still frustrated by the stewards' decision on Sunday morning, but he remains pleased with McKinzie's effort.
“He showed he's the real deal,” Baffert said. “He was ready in case of a throw down. It's too bad the stewards got involved. It was a thrilling race.”
The controversy over the disqualification will no doubt be fodder for racetrack conversation for some time to come. No one is more keenly aware of the agony of defeat via DQ than trainer David Bernstein, who witnessed Phil and Sophie Hersh's The Wicked North finish first by 1 ½ lengths in the 1994 Big 'Cap, but subsequently have his number taken down in a most controversial decision.
“I think the disqualification was deserved,” said Bernstein. “McKinzie came out the last 16th, but it could have gone either way. The last bump was the kiss of death, however.
“You hate to see any disqualification in a big race, especially this one, because both horses ran their eyeballs out.”
Relief, pride, fulfillment and gratitude were but four emotions percolating through the veins of Mick Ruis, owner/trainer of Bolt d'Oro. The colt had missed his intended three-year-old debut on Feb. 10 in the San Vicente Stakes due to a pulled muscle, so Ruis, with time not on his side, had no alternative but to bring the son of Medaglia d'Oro into the San Felipe on works alone in his first start since finishing third after a wide trip Nov. 4 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Naysayers had a field day speculating that the horse wouldn't be up to the task, but Mick and his wife and co-owner, Wendy, restrained malice, enjoying a low key celebration last night at home with family and friends.
Too soon for champagne, they brought in pizza from Dominoes.
“Give a lot of credit to Ruis,” said fellow trainer Richard Baltas. “His horse is the real deal and he deserves it.”
Now racing fans worldwide sit in anticipation of a rematch in the $1 million, Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 7, should the fates allow.
Both three-year-olds came out of their epic battle in good shape and are expected to meet again in the West Coast's major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
“Bolt came back fantastic, ate his food, his legs are tight and cold, so we live for another day,” Ruis said early Sunday morning. “He's going to build off that race, because we didn't have him all the way (cranked).”
Asked whether Javier Castellano would stay with Bolt in his upcoming races, since the four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey has other Triple Crown options pending some two months before the Run for the Roses, Ruis was non-committal.
“I don't know yet,” he said. “We have to talk to Javier and see what he wants to do, but I've got another jockey who's licking his chops if he doesn't want to ride,” alluding to Hall of Fame member, three-time Kentucky Derby winner and Triple Crown king Victor Espinoza.
Jim Barnes, assistant to Bob Baffert, trainer of McKinzie, said the previously unbeaten colt came back “very good. We're in great shape.”
Ditto for racing, should Bolt and McKinzie meet again.
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