Profile - Mick Ruis

By ED GOLDEN    Trainers are nothing if not confident.    It’s rarely their fault when they lose a race.    It’s the track, the ride, the post position, the equipment, the weather.    Mick Ruis is a refreshingly standup guy in a game where the batter often receives a curve ball rather than a pitch right down the middle. He speaks with a child’s innocence, and he believes in the Golden Rule.    After he won three races at Santa Anita on opening day, September 29, he was humble, appreciative, and forthcoming when asked about the feat.    “Usually we’re lucky if we run one horse a day,” Ruis (pronounced ROO-is, as in Lewis) said, speaking of Ruis Racing, LLC, the ownership comprised of himself and his wife, Wendy.    “But we saved all the horses for that meet. I’m a believer that if someone helps you, like Santa Anita did by giving us stalls, you try to help them, so we wanted to save our horses for the short meet (19 days) since we were stabled there.”    Most magnanimous, but one would expect nothing less from a man whose philosophical foundation is based on curiosity and practicality. His esteemed business sense was developed through hands-on application, not surprising from a high school dropout who became a millionaire.    “I was penniless when I started, and to this day I work for everything I’ve got,” he said.    “I wasn’t a good student in school (at El Capitan High in San Diego County), but I was a pretty good wrestler. The day after the state tournament, I went to work. I won the C.I.F.(California Interscholastic Federation) championships in my junior and senior years and lost by one point my sophomore year. In 1977, when I was 16, I wrestled in the 85-pound class. As a senior, I wrestled at 114.”    He has since added some girth. “Now I always tell Wendy,” said Ruis, today 5’7” and 200 pounds, “I’m twice the man she married.”    Mother Nature and gravity will do that to a person, as time goes by.    Wendy, a flight attendant for Continental Airlines in her “younger days,” still turns heads at 56. She is petite and trim, 5’4” and 105 pounds, with less body fat than an Ultimate Fighting combatant. She is always in lockstep with Ruis as they double-time it to a grandstand vantage point to watch their horses go through their morning paces.    “I started going to the track with Mick in the mornings just to get the exercise,” Wendy said. “But being at the racetrack every day, I’m learning more and just loving it way more now than I ever did. It’s really fun.”    Ruis concurs. “Wen has been by my side and supported me the whole time,” he said. “She loves hanging out. Three weeks from the day we met in Montana, we got married. She was a widow with two children. I was a single dad with three, so we had five instant kids and then had two more children together and all lived together.    “Our youngest is 19, so this is the first time in almost 23 years we’ve gotten to hang out together. That’s why she’s with me every morning.”    Wendy is a native of Oahu, Hawaii. She is third generation Japanese. Mick is the son of an Irish mother and a Native American father.    “My father was a Yaqui Indian from a traveling American Indian tribe in Arizona,” Ruis said. “In the winter, they would go to Sonora, Mexico, where it was warm, and in the summer, they would go up near the mountains in Flagstaff to escape the heat.”    Ruis is well known in Northwest Montana as a serial investor who has opened his wallet for the revitalization of Columbia Falls, putting the Flathead Valley in Bigfork, Montana, on the map as a world-class training ground used to break their babies. He also owns a ranch in Bigfork.    “That’s one of my passions,” he said. “We’ve built apartments in Columbia Falls and are doing footings for another 18 units. We’ve upgraded an old bank building, office buildings, and the old Park Mercantile building, which now has three businesses in it. The more I can keep people working and help people who want to be helped, that’s what I want to do.    “There are a lot of people who want help but don’t want to help themselves. We want to help those who want to help themselves. Between all my businesses, I’m probably responsible for (the welfare of) 700 families.”    To that end is this succinct but unsolicited testimonial from veteran jockey agent Tony Matos, who represents journeyman Santiago Gonzalez and sensational Puerto Rican apprentice Evin Roman, winner of four Southern California riding titles at the tender age of 19:    “Ruis is good for racing. He gives everybody a chance. We need more people like him in the game.”    Added fellow trainer Steve Miyadi: “I admire his work ethic. He puts in a lot of time. He’s a serious player.”    Said veteran jockey Brice Blanc, who rode Grade 1-winning filly Union Strike for Ruis before she was retired: “Mick is good for the industry. He always wants to learn more, and there are always opportunities for that. I’ve been a jockey for 30 years and I’m still learning.    “Mick and Wendy are great people, a pleasure to work with. I’m happy to be part of their team.”    Corey Nakatani will second that. It was Ruis who gave the 47-year-old Nakatani the go-ahead to ride his undefeated, dual Grade 1-winning two-year-old colt Bolt d’Oro, despite ruffling the trainer’s feathers by previously missing an important workout assignment.    “My dad and Mick Sr. have always been really close,” said Nakatani’s 25-year-old son and agent, Matt, who buoyed Corey’s confidence and strongly urged him to come back after a year’s layoff. Together, they resurrected a career that never lacked riding prowess or the will to win.    “Mick told us we could ride a few horses for him, and we did before getting Bolt,” Matt said. “We worked to get in a few other barns but came back to Mick, and said we really wanted to ride for him.    “We got on Bolt this way: I wanted to ride Union Strike in the (Grade 1) Test, and Mick at the time had Gary (Stevens) working her, but told me there could be a possibility later.    “‘What if I give you my best two-year-old?’” he said. “I said, ‘Whatever you think is best.’ My dad and I were actually on vacation last July in Pismo Beach when Mick called and asked us to work his best two-year-old and let him know what we think. We didn’t know his name or anything.    “We went to Santa Anita, a three-and-a-half-hour drive, worked him that morning, dad loved him, went back on our vacation, and that’s kind of what started it, I guess.”    Corey has known Ruis for years and has as much respect for him now as ever.    “He pays attention to what he does and he’s very thorough,” Nakatani said. “That’s evident not only in his training of horses, but in his scaffolding business. He and Wendy make a great team. They have a passion for horseracing, which is great, and I’m very lucky to be a part of a horse like Bolt d’Oro.    “I told them before: this is a once in a lifetime horse. He’s very talented. He doesn’t have to be on the lead because he has a high cruising speed and he’s so professional. He’s a special animal.”    Nakatani has a Gibraltar-like rapport with Ruis. “We won a few stakes when he first took out his trainer’s license,” the jockey recalled. “Training is very tough and there are bumps in the road, and he left for a while to devote time to his scaffolding company.    “His daughter Shelbe is a great horseman. She learned a lot from different trainers and she’s very intricate in the operation. Mick is great to work with and I love getting on the young horses and discovering what ability they have and what they’re capable of doing.    “You can be pretty straightforward with Mick. That’s the kind of guy he is, and that’s good, because you can’t always convey good things about horses. You have to be constructive and tell him if the horse’s energy isn’t there, if it might be better with blinkers, things like that, and he’s receptive about suggestions from someone who’s on the horse’s back.    “It makes for a good relationship and I thank the Lord for that.”    Team Ruis, like the majority of horsemen, doesn’t hit the snooze button when it comes time to go to work in the morning.    “Wendy and I get to the barn about 5:30,” Ruis said. “The rest of the crew starts at 4:30. We train till about 10 o’clock, then I focus as CEO of my other company, American Scaffolding, supervising about 500 employees.”    Following the sale of the controlling interest in American Scaffolding, Mick and Wendy went back full force into racing, spending about $2 million on the purchase of horses that now comprise the bulk of the stable, which stood at 27 head in mid-October.    Ruis initially had Shelbe as his trainer early on, but that didn’t work out so he enlisted Craig Dollase as trainer before taking over himself.    “It’s difficult working with your children, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Ruis said. “Any employee will listen to the boss, but your children, they test you to the end, because they’re your kids.    “Shelbe and I are on good terms. She helps in our barn now. I had my trainer’s license before, but I was being stubborn and didn’t want to activate it again. I asked Shelbe if she wanted to train the horses with me, and if so, to get her license, and that’s how that started.”    American Scaffolding has five branches and is the largest supplier of scaffolding for the United State Navy.    “We erect and dismantle scaffolding for the repair of Naval ships,” Ruis said. “Our headquarters are in San Diego, but I work out of my house in Arcadia (site of Santa Anita).    “I make it to the barn at least three times a day, in the morning, early afternoon, and 8 o’clock in the evening. That’s when my day’s over and that’s my quiet time.    “I start my day at 3:30 in the morning talking to my guys on the East Coast in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida, which is about 20 minutes from Jacksonville. So when I start at 3:30, it’s already 6:30 there because of the three-hour time difference.    “When I’m done with that, I leave the house at about 5:20 in Arcadia where we’re full time residents, get to the barn five minutes later, work until about 10 o’clock, come home again, take a nap for about 45 minutes, then I’m either full blast for either going to the races or working for American Scaffold, mostly by my phone.”    Whew and double whew!    A full plate for a lesser man, to be sure, but Ruis, born on February 24, 1961, and going on 57, has the adrenalin of a teenager, from whom he once got some sage advice.    “When our daughter, Gabbie, was younger, one night I told her it was time to go to bed, and she said, ‘Dad, sleeping is so overrated.’”    While sweet Morpheus might rest on the lower echelon of Ruis’ priorities, he has an unflappable yen for training and business.    “I didn’t graduate from high school but always had a keen interest in what makes things tick,” he said. “Anytime I went into a meeting, I went in like I was the dumbest person in the room, and I listened and listened, asked questions and didn’t think about what anybody thought of me.    “And I do that with my training. I ask everybody, ‘How do you do this? How do you do that?’ Not necessarily that I’ll apply their answers, although I might, but I use my common sense.    “When I asked Humberto Ascanio (former longtime right-hand man to the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel) to help me out when my daughter was training, he said, ‘Mick, you’re doing a good job. The number one thing you’ve got to do in training is have good, common sense.’    “And that’s what I try to use.”    Ruis sent out the favourite,Bolt d’Oro, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, but he said he felt “no pressure” going into the race -- where Bolt d’Oro won his first Grade 1, the Del Mar Futurity.    “The first time he ran, when he was a maiden, yes, there was pressure,” Ruis said of the Medaglia d’Oro colt bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky and purchased by Ruis Racing for $630,000 at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. “Second time he ran, he wasn’t the favorite, but going into the FrontRunner Stakes (on September 30), we knew we had a really, really good horse, so it was just up to him to see what he could do.”    Bolt d’Oro won by 7¾ lengths.    Somehow, Ruis’ name and phone number were not among the 171 trainers listed in Santa Anita’s Autumn Meet condition books.    After Bolt d’Oro’s 4th in the the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile the plan remains for him to head to the Kentucky Derby, assuredly every agent will know Ruis’ name and have his number at the ready, poised on speed dial.    His phone could be ringing like the bells of Quasimodo.

Published in North American Trainer, Winter 2017 issue.

Trainers are nothing if not confident.

It’s rarely their fault when they lose a race.

It’s the track, the ride, the post position, the equipment, the weather.

Mick Ruis is a refreshingly standup guy in a game where the batter often receives a curve ball rather than a pitch right down the middle. He speaks with a child’s innocence, and he believes in the Golden Rule.

After he won three races at Santa Anita on opening day, September 29, he was humble, appreciative, and forthcoming when asked about the feat.

“Usually we’re lucky if we run one horse a day,” Ruis (pronounced ROO-is, as in Lewis) said, speaking of Ruis Racing, LLC, the ownership comprised of himself and his wife, Wendy.

“But we saved all the horses for that meet. I’m a believer that if someone helps you, like Santa Anita did by giving us stalls, you try to help them, so we wanted to save our horses for the short meet (19 days) since we were stabled there.”

Most magnanimous, but one would expect nothing less from a man whose philosophical foundation is based on curiosity and practicality. His esteemed business sense was developed through hands-on application, not surprising from a high school dropout who became a millionaire.

“I was penniless when I started, and to this day I work for everything I’ve got,” he said.

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