While the belles busy themselves finding the perfect fascinator for Kentucky Derby day, the serious business of actually trying to win the Run For the Roses takes place on a less glamorous level.
Trying to groom a Triple Crown winner is one of the great challenges in sports. That’s why it’s been done only 13 times in the history of horse racing, although we’ve been spoiled lately by the successes of American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
It’s nearly impossible to nurture a prized thoroughbred through the rigorous seven-week sprint from the running of the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont Stakes in June. So much can happen.
Of course, a horse can’t be a Triple Crown winner without first winning the Kentucky Derby and that’s why there’s so much focus on the Derby favorite. We all want to know who to watch and root for. And that’s why there was such disappointment on Wednesday when the handlers of Derby favorite, Omaha Beach, announced they were pulling him from the race.
Omaha Beach’s trainer, Richard Mandella, who has lost six previous Derby runs, broke the news that the horse had to be scratched because of an entrapped epiglottis. For those of us who didn’t attend veterinary school, the epiglottis is a triangle-shaped piece of cartilage at the base of the airway above the soft palate.
Basically speaking, if Omaha Beach, who won the Arkansas Derby, was allowed to run in this condition he might have experienced labored breathing that potentially could cause discomfort and damage.
“After training this morning we noticed him cough a few times,” Mandella said in a news release. “It caused us to scope him and we found an entrapped epiglottis. We can’t fix it this week so we’ll have to have a procedure done in a few days and probably be out of training for three weeks. We’ll have to figure out a whole new game plan.”
With that time frame in mind, Omaha Beach will not run in The Preakness since that takes place two weeks after the Derby. Instead, Omaha Beach will undergo surgery in Kentucky this week and start rehabilitation immediately.
“It’s such a disappointment, but we’ll fight again,” Mandella told the Associated Press. “We won’t be out a long time.”
One of the byproducts of the misfortune of Omaha Beach is veteran jockey Mike Smith will not have a mount on Saturday. He chose Omaha Beach over Roadster and Bob Baffert, Roadster’s trainer, is sticking with jockey Florent Geroux even though Smith rode Justify for Baffert last year.
The new favorite is the appropriately named Game Winner. He’s 9-2 to win. Improbable and Roadster share second at 5-1, which means Baffert, who has won five Derbys, now has the top three competitors in the 20-horse field.
Things like this have happened before, but not that often. I Want Revenge was scratched on the day of the 2009 Kentucky Derby because of an ankle issue. Eskendereya was retired six days before the 2011 race due to a leg issue.
Bodexpress, 30-1, is now in the field. Omaha Beach was in the No. 12 post, so every horse from No. 13 to No. 20 just slides over one post position. Bodexpress will be in the No. 20 spot.
“(Mandella) felt so bad. You could hear it in his voice,” Smith told the Louisville Courier Journal. “He’s just devastated over it, and you can see why. A horse like this who was training as well as he was training, all systems were go and now you have to pull the plug. You can only imagine what it felt like for him and Mr. (Rick) Porter and all of the connections. But it’s part of the game if you’re in it long enough.
“It just wasn’t meant to be. It’s certainly not the end of the world. Yeah, we’re going to miss the Derby, but, hey, that’s part of the game.”