Kentucky Derby storylines: Training death puts early pall over Churchill Downs
The Kentucky Derby brings with it the usual assortment of highs and lows, boundless expectations of glory, and for most the reality of defeat. Never forget, only one horse can win the Derby. Well, sometimes two at different times, but more on that later.
This year’s leadup to the Run for the Roses was especially painful, as one horse that had earned a starting spot broke down during training and was euthanized.
Wild on Ice, the long-shot winner of the Sunland Derby, was pulled up on the backstretch Thursday with an injury to his left hind leg. He walked on to the horse ambulance, was evaluated at Churchill Downs and then was transferred to an equine hospital in Lexington, Ky., where it was determined that the gelding’s injuries were not repairable.
Kentucky, unlike California and New York, shows little transparency when it comes to horse injuries. So, word of the horse’s death was announced by a reporter with the El Paso (Texas) Times after being told by the horse's owner, Frank Sumpter. Churchill Downs only has acknowledged that the horse was injured and will not run.
In the 148 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, just one horse, Eight Belles in 2008, has died as part of the race. The filly broke both front ankles after crossing the finish line in second place and was euthanized on the track. As for how many horses have died training for the Derby, there are no records.
As Saturday’s race time approaches, the attention will turn away from the dangers of racing to who will win the race, who you have in the Derby pool and who has the best hats. Here is a look at some of the best questions you might have before race day.
Who is likely to win the race?
This is always the No. 1 question. The oddsmakers, and likely bettors, are going to settle on Forte, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby. Sportsbooks have the colt somewhere between 2-1 and 5-2 odds to win, which is pretty low for a 20-horse field. Forte joins Tapit Trice and Kingsbarns from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher. “I feel like we’ve been able to have everything go really smoothly, and so you just kind of hope that it continues to be the case and, hopefully, you are lucky with the weather,” Pletcher said. Only two horses, Nyquist and Street Sense, have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. And if you are looking for a sign, Nyquist also won the Florida Derby.
Whatever happened with Bob Baffert and the Derby?
This is the story that keeps on going and going and going. This is the last year that Baffert is not allowed to run horses at Churchill Downs after Medina Spirit tested positive for a medication in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Baffert has been fighting in court to overturn the disqualification of Medina Spirit and reverse his 90-day suspension, which he has already served. It seems the case has gotten personal between Baffert and Churchill Downs. It also explains how Medina Spirit was the Derby winner for about 10 months before the victory was given to Mandaloun, the second-place finisher. The Hall of Fame trainer and two-time Triple Crown winner is allowed to run horses in this year’s Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and there is little doubt he would like to get back into the Triple Crown races in a big way. He does have Reincarnate in this year’s Derby, but the colt will be running for trainer Tim Yakteen, Baffert’s former assistant.
Is it possible that another long shot like Rich Strike will win?
You can dream, but it’s unlikely that an 80-1 horse will win this year’s race. It took a multitude of factors for Rich Strike to win last year, and it started right out of the gate. Crown Pride and Summer of Tomorrow ran extremely fast in the first part of the race, which completely broke down predicted scenarios for horses that ran near the lead. Their times of 21.78 seconds for the quarter and 45.36 for the half would have been fast in a six-furlong race, not to mention the 10-furlong Derby. Rich Strike, despite breaking from the far outside, found a comfortable spot on the rail and was unimpeded for most of the race. While the front-runners were tiring, he had a clear path to win. Don’t expect to see that happen again for a long time.
Who is the wise guy horse?
Wise guy is a euphemism for a professional bettor, one who is looking for value and usually stays away from the heavy favorite. There are two horses that might fit that description. Derma Sotogake is listed on the sportsbooks between 10-1 and 12-1. He is one of two Japanese horses in the race, having qualified by winning the UAE Derby by 5½ lengths. Hiroyuki Asanuma owns the horse and is a dermatologist, thus having the first part of his name Derma. Sotogake is a sumo technique. The other horse that could go off at lower odds than you think is Skinner, from the Santa Anita barn of John Shirreffs. He got into the race after the death of Wild on Ice opened a spot. He is listed between 20-1 and 25-1 odds. He was a close third in the Santa Anita Derby and will be getting a new jockey in Juan Hernandez.
Which Santa Anita horse has the best chance?
That’s easy, Practical Move, also trained by Yakteen. He has shown a lot of heart in wins in the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. He is expected to go off as the second or third favorite. His gallop outs in training would indicate he has the distance to go the 1¼ miles. Yakteen has had the colt since he started racing, erasing the notion that Yakteen’s best horses come from Baffert. “As he’s matured, he’s now become more efficient at using himself and developed that desire to win and compete,” Yakteen said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.