In the twinkle of an eye – and the cough of a 3-year-old colt – the entire Kentucky Derby changed Wednesday afternoon with the scratching of futures favorite Omaha Beach.
The Arkansas Derby winner that was likely to become an even firmer favorite with the forecast of rainy weather Saturday, Omaha Beach (4-1 on the morning line, 3-1 at the Westgate Las Vegas) was found to have a trapped epiglottis that forced him out of the Derby and this spring’s other two classics.
“This will get in the way of the whole Triple Crown,” trainer Richard Mandella said in a text message. “We should get him something at the end of summer.”
Indeed, the injury is not career threatening. Just a case of horrendously bad timing.
“A little bit of coughing caused us to scope him,” Mandella told the Churchill Downs media team. “We can’t fix it this week. He’ll have to have a procedure done in a few days, and he’ll probably be out of training like three weeks. We’ll have to figure out a whole new game plan.”
“I guess it can flare up,” said jockey Mike Smith, whose decision to ride Omaha Beach meant that he would not ride Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster. “It can be like a sore throat or a bit of an ulcer underneath that all of a sudden flares up. You don’t even know it, and there it is.”
From what he was told by Mandella, Smith said that the symptom appeared out of nowhere here at Churchill Downs only a few hours after Omaha Beach had routinely galloped 1½ miles around the main track.
“He looked wonderful,” Smith said. “It can happen at any time I guess. I feel bad for Mr. Mandella and (owner Rick) Porter. It’s part of the game. I’m bummed out, but it is what it is. The horse is fine; that’s the most important thing by far.”
Although Smith could have been called back to ride Roadster, Baffert said in a text “no” when asked by VSiN if he would consider it. Whether another trainer might call on Smith to step in for another jockey remains to be seen, but that seemed like a long shot so close to Derby day.
For Smith it is the third time that he has lost his Derby ride to a late scratch. He was scheduled to ride likely second betting choice Hoppertunity five years ago before the Baffert colt developed a sore foot two days before the race. In 2000, Globalize was kicked in the leg by a pony after a Thursday workout with Smith aboard.
“It happens,” Smith told VSiN on Wednesday evening. “It’s just part of the game. It sucks. But hey, we’re alive, we’re fine, the horse is great, and we’ll live to fight again.”
With Omaha Beach out, 2018 juvenile champion Game Winner (9-2, 4-1) is the new favorite in both the revised morning line and in the reposted futures at the Westgate followed by Baffert’s other two colts – Roadster (5-1, 9-2) and Improbable (5-1, 5-1). The Westgate had suspended its Derby futures right after the Omaha Beach news broke but reposted them late Wednesday evening.
Kentucky Derby notes and opinions
The revised morning line and updated Wynn odds to win the Derby are as follows (morning line listed first):
1. War of Will 15-1 20-1
2. Tax 20-1 20-1
3. By My Standards 15-1 20-1
4. Gray Magician 50-1 50-1
5. Improbable 5-1 5-1
6. Vekoma 15-1 20-1
7. Maximum Security 8-1 6-1
8. Tacitus 8-1 8-1
9. Plus Que Parfait 30-1 50-1
10. Cutting Humor 30-1 20-1
11. Haikal 30-1 30-1
13. Code of Honor 12-1 10-1
14. Win Win Win 12-1 14-1
15. Master Fencer 50-1 60-1
16. Game Winner 9-2 4-1
17. Roadster 5-1 9-2
18. Long Range Toddy 30-1 30-1
19. Spinoff 30-1 30-1
20. Country House 30-1 30-1
21. Bodexpress 30-1 40-1
With the scratch of Omaha Beach, the maiden Bodexpress draws into the field as program number 21 in gate 20. All the horses from 13 to 20 move one post position inward. This will mark the third time in four runnings of the Derby that a maiden will have started the race. The last winless horse to break through and finish first in the Derby was Brokers Tip in 1933. So did Sir Barton in 1919 on his way to the first of what would be called the Triple Crown. The only other maiden winner was Buchanan in 1884.
The National Weather Service said there is a 70 percent chance of rain, meaning this could be the third consecutive Kentucky Derby to be run on a wet track and the fifth time it has happened in the ’10s. It would also be the third time that half the races in a given Derby decade have been affected by rain. The others were the 1890s and the 1940s, including the Triple Crown campaigns of Assault in 1946 and Citation in 1948.
Fifteen of the 20 horses drawn into the Derby have wet-track experience. Here is the list:
1. War Of Will (1–1-0-0). Broke his maiden here last November.
3. By My Standards (2–0-1-1). Debuted second in here last November.
4. Gray Magician (1–0-0-0). Fifth in Santa Anita slop in January allowance.
5. Improbable (1–0-1-0). Second last month in the Arkansas Derby.
7. Maximum Security (1–1-0-0). Won January sprint in Gulfstream mud.
8. Tacitus (1–1-0-0). Maiden win in November on good going at Aqueduct.
9. Plus Que Parfait (1–0-1-0). Second in slop here in Kentucky Jockey Club.
10. Cutting Humor (1–0-1-0). Second in sloppy sprint on debut at Belmont.
11. Haikal (2–1-1-0). Second and first to start career on good Aqueduct dirt.
14. Win Win Win (1–0-1-0). Second on good Laurel dirt in December stakes.
15. Master Fencer (1–1-0-0). Broke maiden last winter on good dirt in Japan.
18, Long Range Toddy (1–0-0-0). Faded to sixth in Arkansas Derby.
19. Spinoff (1–1-0-0). Won June debut on good going at Gulfstream.
20. Country House (1–0-0-1). Distant third in Arkansas Derby.
21. Bodexpress (1–0-0-0). Lost in January by 18 in Gulfstream slop.
Pronunciation guide: For those reading out loud, Plus Que Parfait is pronounced “ploos cup-par-FAY.” That has been a subject of some dispute, but it was confirmed this week by France native Florent Geroux, who rides Roadster on Saturday. Geroux responded to the question posed by longtime racing journalist and publicist Jennie Rees, who shot a video and posted the evidence on YouTube. As for the other names that have been mangled this week, Haikal is pronounced “HIGH call,” Tacitus has an “s” sound where it looks like a “c,” and Bodexpress is “BO-dee express.”
Derby futures at the Westgate Las Vegas will remain open until just before the scheduled 6:48 p.m. EDT post time Saturday, according to race and sports-book vice president Jay Kornegay. That gives bettors with access to the Westgate windows or app the option of betting fixed odds or the pari-mutuels. Those open Friday at 10 a.m. EDT, one hour after the deadline to scratch from the race. William Hill closed its Derby futures Sunday night.
Ron Flatter’s racing column from Louisville is posted daily at VSiN.com during Kentucky Derby week. You may also hear a horseplayers pop-up edition of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Wednesday at VSiN.com/podcasts with the focus on handicapping all 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby including Bodexpress. Vinny Magliulo, Dave Tuley and Patrick McQuiggan are joined by DraftKings’ Johnny Avello. Friday’s regularly scheduled RFRP will feature Omaha Beach’s Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at Apple, Google, Stitcher, and it is sponsored by Xpressbet.