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Horse Racing

Morning-line favorite Omaha Beach scratched from 145th Kentucky Derby

Louisville, Ky. — Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite for the 145th Kentucky Derby, was scratched from the race Wednesday afternoon because of an upper respiratory problem, his trainer Richard Mandella said.

Mandella said Omaha Beach is suffering from an entrapped epiglottis, a condition that can lead to labored breathing, coughing and exercise intolerance. The condition, in which cartilage covering the entrance to the larynx becomes trapped in a fold of tissue, is often correctable with surgery.

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“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,” Mandella said in a news release from Churchill Downs.

He said he had Omaha Beach scoped after the Derby favorite coughed several times following his morning workout. Jockey Mike Smith texted a sad emoji and hands clasped in prayer in confirming the news about Omaha Beach.

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The scratch offered a stunning twist for a race that already appeared unpredictable at the top. Omaha Beach earned his status with a commanding victory in the April 13 Arkansas Derby. Rival trainer Bob Baffert described him as “definitely the horse to beat.”

Two-time Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher said Omaha Beach “built up lot of momentum over his last two starts and is justifiably the morning-line favorite.”

Baffert, seeking to tie Ben Jones for the most trainer wins in Derby history at six, now has the top three remaining horses in the morning line for Saturday’s race: Game Winner (5-to-1 odds), Roadster (6-1) and Improbable (6-1).

Omaha Beach had beaten Improbable in the Arkansas Derby and Game Winner, the 2018 2-year-old champion, in the March 16 Rebel Stakes.

Smith, who piloted Justify to the Triple Crown last year, chose to ride Omaha Beach over Roadster, the Santa Anita Derby champion. Many handicappers took that as a further sign of Omaha Beach’s excellence.

Baffert joked that jockeys are right 90% of the time when they make such decisions.

He had nothing but kind words Wednesday morning for Omaha Beach and Mandella, a Hall of Fame trainer who’s never won a Triple Crown race.

“Richard, he doesn’t need any tips from me,” Baffert said. “He’s very capable and when he gets a good horse, he knows what to do. I’m happy for him, because he’s my neighbor [at Santa Anita Park] and he’s so excited. He’s been here before, but he’s never had a horse like this.”

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The understated Mandella offered no hint of the news to come during an interview outside his barn Wednesday morning. “Good as ever,” he said after watching his horse gallop 1 ¾ miles over the track at Churchill Downs.

Mandella has never emphasized reaching the Derby as much as many top trainers. “It’s fun every once in a while to get through this,” he said, alluding to the hubbub on the backside during Derby week. “It’ll test you. I wouldn’t want to do this every day.”

He’s expected to meet with reporters outside Omaha Beach’s barn Thursday morning.

With the scratch, Bodexpress will draw into the field and break from post position No. 20. All horses outside of Omaha Beach (post positions 13 to 20) will move over one position in the starting gate.

Omaha Beach’s owner, Delaware native Rick Porter, had said of Mandella: “He wants this bad, believe me. … He just wants to prove that he can win the Kentucky Derby because of his track record. And, you know, he’s done everything — just about everything else in horse racing, and, you know, he wants it as much as anybody could ever want anything.”

Porter told the Daily Racing Form that Omaha Beach first suffered inflammation in his throat last week but that it was 95% cleared after the horse was treated with antibiotics. He said the scope was conducted Tuesday and found the entrapped epiglottis, but Mandella entered Omaha Beach in the Derby anyway in hopes that the condition would clear on its own.

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“I can tell you it breaks my heart,” the 78-year-old owner told the Daily Racing Form.

Porter experienced tragedy at the 2008 Derby when his filly, Eight Belles, collapsed and had to be euthanized after finishing second to Big Brown.

In a conference call with reporters last week, Porter said he would never forget Eight Belles, but that he would not dwell on her death in looking forward to this year’s Derby. He described his delight at Omaha Beach’s progress after he initially thought the colt was destined to be a turf horse.

“This might be my last shot,” he said.


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