Rookie Trainer Shelbe Ruis Eyes Breeders Cup for Union Strike

Shelbe RuisShelbe Ruis, who trained her first winner as recently as May, hit the big time when her two-year-old filly Union Strike landed the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes over 7f at the weekend.

In the process the 25-year-old Ruis (pictured) took a high-profile scalp in the shape of the much-touted full-sister to American Pharoah, also trained by Bob Baffert, called American Cleopatra. Union Strike was reversing form as she had suffered a debut defeat at the hands of the 1.7/1 favorite previously. The Union Rags filly knew more this time and broke from the gates like a professional, having forfeited ground at that point on her first start.

Despite jockey Martin Garcia losing his whip, Union Strike strode clear to win by over two lengths at odds of near 8/1 in the betting, defeating her better fancied rival comprehensively.

It would be easy to think that Ruis has just got lucky early in a career that might otherwise lack potential. However you often need to create your own luck in racing and Shelbe has a formidable team behind her, namely her well-informed family.

Her father Mick Ruis was a California trainer for many years while her brother, also called Mick, was a jockey. Neither hit the heights and they ground out their trade at the lower levels of the sport, hindered by a lack of investment and opportunity. Despite saddling winners, Ruis Sr left the sport disillusioned with his lack of ammunition, while Mick Jr took a break from riding only to gain the sort of weight that ends jockeys’ careers.

Father and son went into business together, buying out a firm that repaired navy ships. Neither believed they would ever have the bank balance to get back into horse racing. They built their new business up and ultimately sold out for millions. Nobody in the family had shaken off their love of racing, and now equipped with the money and time to get involved at the highest level, they set about building a yard to compete with the best.

They recruited Shelbe, who was keen on a training career, to hold the licence and so keep the venture a truly family affair. They headed to the bloodstock sales with $2m to spend on a handful of horses, one of which was Union Strike. When that juvenile filly struck so decisively at the weekend, it was a vindication of the Ruis family business plan and a valuable return on their initial investment.

It was both encouraging and ironic that they beat the Zayat Stable’s star two-year-old filly into second in the Del Mar Debutante Stakes. Mick Ruis Sr had previously claimed that he wanted to emulate Zayat’s success on the big stage, and now he is bettering them.

As for Union Strike, Shelbe Ruis is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes as the target for the progressive youngster.

The forward-thinking Ruis’s bought one of the 12 berths for the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, which will be run on January 28th 2017 at Gulfstream Park over nine furlongs on dirt. That purchase signaled their unerring intention to be involved at the very top of the sport from the get-go of their new adventure.

Holders of a place in the race had to buy their stall for $1m and now have the right to run one of their horses in the race, cut a deal with another owner or simply auction off their spot. It was a shrewd and opportunistic move from the Ruis family, because the prize fund will be swollen further by media rights and sponsorships. The Pegasus World Cup will be the richest race in the world by some way, relegating the Dubai World Cup from that position.

The Pegasus World Cup would surely be too much too soon for Union Strike. However one thing is for sure, with the weight of family experience, knowledge and money behind her, this is truly only the start of what promises to be a glittering career for rookie trainer Shelbe Ruis.