Passion is a part of sports and competition. When you see that perfect storm of hugs and kisses come together in some sporting genius, it truly is a masterpiece for those that understand the game of life and the role faith plays. We saw such at Santa Anita on May 27.

The grade 1 Shoemaker Mile always carries significance, but the 2019 edition was a little more special as some heavy turf hitters lined up for the half-million dollar event. Run at a mile on the lawn and with Breeders’ Cup win and you’re in implications, a solid cast lined up with one mystery horse in the group. West Coast turf titans like Catapult, River Boyne, and Sharp Samurai were joined by East Coast stalwart Delta Prince in the starting gates. The question mark among the group came in the form of Bolo. Having raced once in two years because of injury, this son of Temple City was making his second start off the injured reserve in a grade 1. For those wondering if trainer Carla Gaines had indulged in some Alabama high test, after the gates opened Bolo explained just why his conditioner had entered him.

Breaking like a bolt of lightning, the Gaines charge assumed command of the race right out of the gates and never looked back. Rolling on a comfortable lead under jockey Florent Geroux, Bolo carved out comfortable yet very solid early fractions (23.51 opening quarter, 46.95 half mile). Striding with strength as they made their way around the far turn and into the stretch, the seven-year old saved his best for last. With the challengers mounting a charge, we all saw why Gaines had entered her prized pupil. Sizzling over the Santa Anita sod, Bolo ran his final quarter mile (23.63) almost as fast as the opening quarter in blasting to a 1 ½ length win.

“We didn’t really have a plan going into the race other than just let the race play out and get him into a position to run at the right time,” says the vibrant Carla Gaines. “Florent is a real student of the game and he understands how it all works. He had talked to some of Bolo’s other riders so he would understand what makes him go. He was able to make an easy lead and then just let him run.“

And run Bolo did. Forgotten at the window and going off at 30-1, he made his trainer look like a genius in picking up his first grade 1 win and an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on November 2. Gaines knew this was a good spot for her runner, but even she wasn’t expecting this kind of showing.

“Any time you come back off an extended layoff you can never be sure if they will have the same ambition ,” says the Alabama native. “You hope they maintain that edge and he had given us the signs he was still the same. When we saddled him in the paddock he had that look in his eye and I knew he was ready to run. Of course we thought we could win, that’s why we entered, but I was just hoping to be in the top three in this group after all the time off.”

Bolo had been put on the shelf after a tendon injury back in June of 2017. While recovering, retirement and other options had been considered for the horse that started and ran 12th in the 2015 Kentucky Derby for Gaines. Allowed to nurture this Kentucky bred by owners Keith Brackpool and Golden Pegasus Racing, the equine-loving university of Alabama graduate was able to turn the tide and get Bolo back to the track.

“I give all the credit to the owners as they let us take our time and were never in a rush,” says Gaines. “Bolo is one of those long-striding free-running horses that was made to do one thing and that is race. Keith understands that and they wanted to give him a chance to get back to doing what he does best. I trained his father too, so he is like part of the family to us. Bolo has a very special place in our hearts for many reasons.”

Bolo and Gaines will look to continue their magical run as the year plays out. A start at the Del Mar meet is very likely and then it will be on to the Breeders’ Cup which is slated for Santa Anita this year. Watching a real horse lover and champion of the sport like Gaines be rewarded for her dedication is special. But she quickly points to her partner in crime as the real hero.

“You know these comebacks don’t always have this kind of fairy tale ending,” observes Gaines. “I’ve had a lot of fun with him over the years and he deserved this opportunity to run again. I think the Shoemaker win was a little payback for both of us. Our faith was justified and it provided proof of why we do what we do.”

Before the scintillating effort in the Shoe, these two had last visited the winner’s circle in February of 2017 when they teamed up in the grade 2 Arcadia Stakes at Santa Anita. For this life lesson in the omens of horse racing and faith in one another, we offer thanks to Carla Gaines and Bolo for doing what they do.