LOUIVILLE, Kentucky — State veterinarians scratched Kentucky Derby favorite Forte Saturday morning after examining him and finding him unfit to compete due to a bruise on his right front leg. Bad rumors swirled all over Churchill Downs this past week.
Kentucky regulators did not immediately comment, but veterinarians were cautious ahead of the 149th race after four horses died in six days at Churchill Downs. The fatality has brought attention to the troubling aspects of a sport that has waned in popularity and has come under scrutiny for the care and treatment of horses.
Forte was named last year’s two-year-old champion, winning six of his seven races. He is well bred and trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. He was to be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., the country’s top jockey.
Only 18 horses currently compete in the Derby. Forte is his fifth horse to be left out of Saturday’s race, following Miles, Continor and Skinner. The last time five of his horses were scratched in the Kentucky Derby was in his 1936, when 19 horses entered the race and 14 started.
Forte co-owner Mike Lepole said the colt suffered a bruise on Wednesday.Repole and Pletcher were tasked with monitoring the health of the horses and clearing them for competition. He said he called the veterinarian and the state veterinarian. State veterinarians monitored Forte daily.
Forte sprinted around 7:45 am on Saturday. He was examined again by the state veterinarian, who told LePaul that the Colt was still “ticking” and about to be scratched.
Les Paul said he was disappointed with Forte, Pletcher, Ortiz and the team that prepared Forte for the race.
“It’s the only time in my life that I can be a 3-year-old foal on the first Saturday in May,” he told the TVG Racing Network.
The death of four horses in six days at Churchill Downs reveals the fragile nature of Thoroughbred racing. Derby entrant Wild on his Ice was euthanized after injuring his leg. Another horse was injured and put down. Two people collapsed and died during the race.
In 2011, Repole had to snag another two-year-old champion, Uncle Mo, the day before the race. Colt was sick with a gastrointestinal infection.
“I’m 7-0 in the Derby,” Repole said earlier in the week. “The pressure of having a horse like this is tough. We all hope and pray and dream to get here. get stuck, get hurt, step on something, etc. You just want to go to the gate.
The day before the Derby, Churchill Downs is constantly rife with rumors and speculation about the health of horses. And Forte has not escaped scrutiny.
The colt appeared to stumble during Thursday’s run, and the moment was captured on video and analyzed by racers and horse enthusiasts.
But on Friday, Pletcher denied the rumors. He said Forte is ready to run and is looking forward to getting his feet on Ortiz on Saturday.
Pletcher said of Forte:
Early Saturday morning, Repole brought many of his 75 family members and friends into town for a private audience with Forte in Derby. They returned to the hotel full of hope.
“He might be able to run Preakness if we want to,” LePaul said. “I think Todd and I will need more recovery than he does.”