Favorite scratched from Kentucky Derby, field down to 18
Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite Forte was scratched Saturday morning by state veterinarians due to a minor bruise in the front right foot, reducing the field to 18 runners.
After a field of 20 3-year-olds was drawn Monday with three also-eligibles, three (Practical Move, Lord Miles and Continuar) were declared out on Thursday for various reasons to allow the AE horses into the field, and then Skinner was scratched on Friday.
Forte had stepped on a rock during training on Thursday and rumors persisted that he would be scratched – even causing trainer Todd Pletcher to hold a Friday press conference at this barn to deny the rumors – but he appeared to train fine on Friday and it was announced he was a go. Then, he galloped Saturday morning (something Pletcher usually doesn’t do the day of a race, but he obviously wanted to make sure his colt was OK) and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chief examining veterinarian Nick Smith told Pletcher and owner Mike Repole that their colt was “a tick off right front” and recommended the scratch.
“I think the vets are being overly cautious, but I understand that the safety of the horse is the most important thing,” Repole told reporters at his barn. “I’m more concerned about the systems that we have and scratching this horse under these bright lights. I’m sad. I’m devastated. I’m devastated for Todd Pletcher. I’m devastated for Todd Pletcher’s barn. I’m devastated for my friends and family back at the hotel that I have to scratch the Derby favorite. It’s almost déjà vu all over again.”
Repole also had to scratch 2011 Derby favorite Uncle Mo on the morning of the race. Like Forte, Uncle Mo was the reigning 2-year-old favorite. Repole hasn’t had a Derby winner yet but did win last year’s Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal.
Irad Ortiz Jr., the defending Eclipse Award-winning jockey, was scheduled to ride Forte and picked up the mount on Cyclone Mischief, who had drawn into the field with the scratch of Potential Move.
Earlier 2023 Kentucky Derby scratches
Skinner was scratched Friday morning from Saturday’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby after having an elevated temperature, joining three other scratches on Thursday. It was the first time since 2015 that four Derby entrants had been scratched after the post-position draw for the historic race that is traditionally run on the First Saturday in May as it’s usually rare to have more than one defection.
With Forte’s scratch on Saturday morning, only 18 will run in this year’s Derby, the same that ran last year. The smallest Derby field in recent memory was 15 in 2020’s pandemic-delayed First Saturday in September.
Thursday’s scratches were Santa Anita Derby winner Practical Move (No. 10), Lord Miles (No. 19) and Continuar (No. 20) as they were replaced by No. 21 Cyclone Mischief, No. 22 Mandarin Hero and No. 23 King Russell off the also-eligible list.
Trainer Tim Yakteen informed Churchill Downs officials of his decision after Practical Move, the 10-1 co-fourth choice in the morning-line odds for the Derby, didn't touch his feed and spiked a temperature after galloping and schooling in the starting gate on Thursday morning. Earlier in the day, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. – who had two horses collapsed and die at Churchill since last Saturday – had requested all his entries this weekend be scratched except for Lord Miles, but then Churchill stewards released a statement later in the afternoon:
“For the betterment of racing, the health and welfare of our equine athletes, and the safety of our jockeys, all horses trained by trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. are scratched effective immediately and until further notice.”
Then, later Thursday night, Continuar’s trainer Yoshito Yahagi released a statement that said in part: “After evaluating the colt upon arrival, I feel that he has not been able to reach the peak fitness required to take on a race as tough as the Kentucky Derby.”
While certainly more extreme, this is similar to last year when trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road at the proverbial 11th hour on Friday morning and Rich Strike drew into the field. Rich Strike, as the No. 21 breaking from the outside post, went on to win at odds of 80-1 – the second-longest winning odds in Derby history behind Donerail’s win in 1913 at 91-1
Cyclone Mischief was listed at 30-1 on the original morning line with his also-eligible status. He set the pace in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 4 before being passed by Derby favorite Forte and Rocket Can and finishing third. Cyclone Mischief also finished third in the Florida Derby behind Forte and Mage.
No. 22 Mandarin Hero was 4-for-5 in Japan before finishing second by just a nose to Potential Move in the Santa Anita Derby.
No. 23 King Russell only has a maiden win, but finished second in the Arkansas Derby behind Angel of Empire at 58-1. He was listed at 50-1 on the original Derby morning line