Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach scratched from race

In a stunning Kentucky Derby development, favorite Omaha Beach has been scratched from the race just three days before post time. Omaha Beach had been tagged as the 4-1 favorite.

Omaha Beach reportedly was coughing Wednesday morning, and an examination revealed an entrapped epiglottis — a breathing obstruction that compromises a horse's ability to breathe during exercise.

With Omaha Beach out, Game Winner, a Bob Baffert trained horse, becomes the favorite.

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Omaha Beach had breezed impressively over the Churchill Downs track for a week, including a stout five-furlong workout over the weekend. Trainer Richard Mandella, a Hall of Famer seeking his first Kentucky Derby victory, was beaming earlier this week about how his colt was performing.

“I’ve never had a 3-year-old in my barn looking this good,” Mandella said.

But that all changed Wednesday. Mandella told the Daily Racing Form that Omaha Beach developed a cough, “which made us suspicious,” so they had him scoped and the entrapped epligottis was discovered.

“It’s not anything we can fix to have him run on Saturday, so we’re going to have to scratch him,” Mandella told The Form.

It’s a bitter blow for the 68-year-old trainer and the horse’s owner, Rick Porter, a 77-year-old who has been in the thoroughbred racing business for many years. Porter’s Derby highs and lows have been extreme — he had Hard Spun finished second in 2007, then had filly Eight Belles suffer a fatal breakdown after finishing second the next year.

And now this.

Exercise rider Taylor Cambra rides Kentucky Derby entrant Omaha Beach during a workout at Churchill Downs Wednesday. (AP)
Exercise rider Taylor Cambra rides Kentucky Derby entrant Omaha Beach during a workout at Churchill Downs Wednesday. (AP)

It also was a jarring reversal of fortune for jockey Mike Smith, who chose to ride Omaha Beach over Baffert trainee Roadster in the weeks leading up to the race. Smith has ridden Roadster in all of his races to date. Smith, who won the Triple Crown last year for Baffert aboard Justify, may go from the most desired rider in America to without a mount in the biggest race of the year.

Baffert technically could still make a change from his named rider on Roadster, Florent Geroux, and go with Smith, but he told Yahoo Sports Wednesday night that he will not make that move.

“I’m all in with Flo,” he said. “I feel horrible for Richard and Mike.”

Baffert now figures to be saddling the Derby favorite once again. Game Winner had been the morning-line second choice at 5-1, with his other two horses next (Roadster and Improbable) at 6-1.

Historically speaking, this is the most jarring Derby scratch since AP Indy bailed on the day of the race in 1992 due to a foot injury. In terms of the Triple Crown, the most momentous scratch was I’ll Have Another defecting from the Belmont the day before he was to run for the Triple Crown in 2012.

The Omaha Beach defection makes room for supplemental entry Bodexpress, who was on the outside looking in. He will move into post position 20 and the rest of the field will move down to make up for the opening in post 12, which had been Omaha Beach's starting position.

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