Untried and a little star-struck when he competed for the first time at Del Mar last season, apprentice jockey Mick Ruis expects much better results this time around.
After a brief indoctrination at Hollywood Park's 2003 spring-summer meeting, the 16-year-old San Diego County native won four races at Del Mar.
This time, Ruis, intent on making a run at the Eclipse Award as the nation's top apprentice, comes to Del Mar full of expectations.
"I think it's going to be a new Del Mar for me this time. At least that's what I'm hoping for," said the teenager, who finished among the top 10 riders at the recently ended Hollywood Park meet. Ruis, as a sophomore, was Poway High School's state wrestling runner-up in the 103-pound class. He finished among the top 10 riders at the recently ended Hollywood Park race meet.
"Last summer, I was just happy to be there (Del Mar)," he said recently in the jockeys' quarters at Hollywood. "That was my attitude. I've always had a good attitude, but I didn't think I was going to do too good there.
"But I was glad to be at Del Mar; to be in the spotlight. It was fun, even though it was a slow meet for me. I think this meet will be much better."
Following his first tour at Del Mar, Ruis went to Turf Paradise in Phoenix and was a runaway winner of the riding title. He posted 110 victories for a 30-win edge over journeyman rider Glenn Corbett's 80.
"I got a lot of confidence riding in Arizona," the quiet, unassuming Ruis said. "Toward the last part (of the meet), I felt like wherever I was in the race I could control it, that I was on the best horse. Like, I almost couldn't lose. I wasn't trying to be cocky, I just had that kind of confidence. The more horses I rode, the more my confidence grew."
Since his return to the Southern California circuit in the winter, he has built up a clientele that includes Santa Anita and Hollywood Park leading trainer Jeff Mullins, Craig Lewis, Martin Jones, Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, Rafael Becerra, Jenine Sahadi and Jack Carava.
Ruis' five-pound "bug" lasts through the Del Mar meeting, but he has been put on horses in stakes races, where the apprentice weight advantage is not a factor. He won the Arizona Oaks with Very Vegas, the Magali Farms Stakes on the Gold Rush Days program at Hollywood Park with Alphabet Kisses and the Tokyo City Handicap with Ender's Shadow.
And now he comes to the seashore and home. While riding at Del Mar, he'll be able to be at home with his family just outside El Cajon. He hopes that being at his home track, as well as being home, translates into a winning parlay.
Del Mar has been kind to apprentice riders. Over the years, five bug-boys have turned the trick, the last being Steve Valdez in 1973. The first apprentice to be leading rider was none other than Bill Shoemaker, who posted 52 victories in 1949.