Monday, September 5, 2016



J. Keith Desormeaux has had a couple of very good 2-year-olds the past two years.

Texas Red won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2014. Exaggerator was fourth in the 2015 Juvenile but came back the following month to win the $1 million Delta Jackpot. This year, victories in the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness and Haskell Invitational, and a second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, have produced more than $2.5 in earnings.

On Monday, Desormeaux will saddle Straight Fire, a Kentucky-bred son of Dominus in the $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Futurity. The seven-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds is the traditional feature of the summer meeting’s closing day program and has been a showcase event for the last three Kentucky Derby winners – California Chrome in 2013, American Pharoah in 2014 and Nyquist last year.

Straight Fire, owned by Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing LLC and partners, has two career starts, both at Del Mar. On July 17, he was second, beaten 5 ½ lengths by a track-record performance for five furlongs from Futurity rival Chasing Aces. Straight Fire’s comeback race at 6 ½ furlongs on August 6 was a visually stunning, wire-to-wire 10 ½ length romp.

Is he the next big thing for Desormeaux?

“His first time out he was just up against a fast horse and he ran unbelievable,” Desormeaux said. “I would agree that his second was a freakish performance. So it remains to be seen if that’s normal for him or if that was an anomaly.

“That was so outstanding that as a horseman you can’t really expect that every time. But we really don’t know. If he is that fast it would be unbelievable to imagine. But fun.”

Straight Fire has shown early speed in both starts and been passed only by Chasing Aces, who was en route to  breaking a 52-year-old track record

“He’s so different in style that it’s a different angle for me,” Desormeaux said. “Usually my horses are late developers (and have an) off the pace style. I haven’t trained him for speed, so what we’ve seen is all natural. It’s interesting to see if he can take on my style, which is to relax and finish, yet not get in the way of his natural speed.

“If it happens, wow, the future’s bright for him.”

The Futurity will go as the fifth on a 10-race card. The field from the rail out: Chasing Aces (Tyler Baze, 9-5), Straight Fire (Kent Desormeaux, 8-5), Midnight Pleasure (Martin Garcia, 10-1), Vegas Itch (Jamie Theriot, 20-1), Dynamic Ruler (Flavien
Prat, 20-1) and Klimt (Rafael Bejarano, 2-1).


Mick and Wendy Ruis occupied lawn chairs on the patch of artificial turf outside the Ruis Racing LLC stable office here Sunday morning.

 Inside, their daughter Shelbe took care of business as usual. Well, as usual as it can be when you’re 25 years old and you’ve trained Union Strike, winner of the Grade I $300,000 Del Mar Debutante for your mom and dad.

A little over 12 hours had passed since Saturday’s big event in Ruis family history. None of it by way of formal celebration.

“Wendy and I just went home and straight to sleep because we had to be back at the barn at 4:30. Shelbe went to bed at 9 o’clock too. I told her we’d see her at the barn and don’t be late.”

They arrived to find Union Strike, a daughter of Union Rags out of the Smart Strike mare Classic Strike, looking to have recovered nicely from the race. Union Strike covered seven furlongs under jockey Martin Garcia in 1:23.22, passing favored American Cleopatra, a full sister to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, near the sixteenth pole and winning by 2 ¼ lengths.

“She’s perfect,” Mick said. “She came out of it sound, ate up well. Now it’s a matter of not getting too excited and keeping her good and happy. We’ll  go (next) in the Chandelier at Santa Anita.”

That race, also a Grade I $300,000 event, is on Saturday, October 1. It is a stepping stone to the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies there on November 5.

Union Strike was a $375,000 purchase in April at the Ocala, Fla., sale, part of over $2 million Ruis, owner of American Scaffolding Co., spent building the stable which Shelbe runs.

Union Strike became only the third maiden, behind Cindy’s Hero (2000) and Sweet Catomine (2004), to win the Debutante. The grade I stakes victory was the fourth in the brief career of Shelbe Ruis, who won two races previously here and one before that, with her fourth starter at Santa Anita.

The Ruis family watched the race from its fifth-floor suite. While Union Strike was, at $7.70-1, the third-longest shot in a field of seven, Mick passed out $20 win tickets to family, friends, stable help and even turf club elevator operators. The cash value was $174.00.

He carried grandson Caiden, who’ll turn three at Christmastime, on his shoulders to the winners’ circle and beyond. Caiden is the son Mick, Jr., who spent part of his apprentice riding season here in the summer of 2003.

Like his father, Mick, Jr. was an accomplished wrestler at Poway High.  Mick, Sr. hopes his grandson will start donning singlets and winning medals at age five. But become a jockey?

“No more jockeys, that was a mistake,” Ruis said. “We’re still trying to get the jockey out of little Mick.”

The delayed celebration was scheduled to take place Sunday night at a steak house at La Costa.

The possibility remains of another one becoming necessary Monday evening. The family has Midnight Pleasure (morning line 10-1) in Monday’s Grade I $300,000 Del Mar Futurity.


Three-win margins separate the leader from the closest pursuer in both the jockey and trainer standings with 20 races remaining in the meeting.

Four-time defending riding champion Rafael Bejarano notched three wins Saturday while meet-leader Flavien Prat blanked to narrow Prat’s lead to 36-33. Santiago Gonzalez, had one win Saturday and is five back.

In the trainer’s race, Richard Baltas saddled two winners on Saturday while leader Phil D’Amato notched his fifth stakes victory of the meeting with Bowies Hero in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf. D’Amato has a 22-19 edge over Baltas with Peter Miller next at 19.

In the 20 remaining races, Prat and Bejarano have scheduled mounts in 16, one more than Gonzalez. Miller is scheduled to saddle representatives in 13 remaining races, D’Amato 10 and Baltas nine.


Jockey Edwin Maldonado was injured Sunday morning in a training-hours spill when the horse he was riding veered sharply to the left out of the gate and into the rail.

Maldonado was taken to Scripps La Jolla Hospital. In a text message his agent, Sarah Wolfe, said Maldonado had suffered a collapsed lung and broken ribs and was undergoing an operating room procedure to insert a chest tube.

CLOSERS Joe Talamo was a first-to-last bounce winner of Saturday’s third annual TVG Hippity Hop Derby, which pitted riders on the bounce-ball steeds usually occupied by kids from Camp Del Mar as a popular between-races event. Following Talamo across the line were Tyler Baze, Victor Espinoza and then a virtual dead-heat between Flavien Prat and Rafael Bejarano, coincidentally the 1-2 leaders in the real jockey standings. The “also bounced” group in the Hippity Hop Derby included Kent Desormeaux, Mario Gutierrez, Abel Lezcano, Fenando Perez, Chantal Sutherland, Austin Solis and Jamie Theriot. Hall of Fame riders Mike Smith and Gary Stevens were judges. The event, organized by TVG’s Britney Eurton, raised $42,500 from sponsors alone for the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund.

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