Kentucky Derby 2019 favorite Omaha Beach to scratch

Kentucky Derby 2019 favorite Omaha Beach to scratch
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

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The 2019 Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach will miss Saturday's race, trainer Richard Mandella announced Wednesday evening.

The culprit is an entrapped epiglottis, a respiratory issue that often requires minor surgery and time off to repair. According to a statement from Churchill Downs, the issue was discovered after the son of War Front developed a cough and was scoped.

Mandella called Omaha Beach as "good as ever" following a 1 3/4-mile gallop Wednesday at Churchill Downs.

“After training this morning we noticed him cough a few times,” Mandella said. “It caused us to scope him and we found an entrapped epiglottis. 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.

"We’ll have to figure out a whole new game plan.” 

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Campaigned by Fox Hill Farms, Omaha Beach was entering Saturday's race off wins in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1), the latter over the sort of sloppy track that could come into play this weekend.

Morning line maker Mike Battaglia assigned Omaha Beach 4-1 odds at this week's post position draw. With his defection, the trio of Bob Baffert trainees -- Game Winner, Roadster and Improbable -- figure to vie for top billing.

The scratch also moves in Bodexpress from the also-eligible list into the Kentucky Derby field. That colt, a maiden, finished second last time in the Florida Derby (G1). He will assume the outside post position.

From post 12, Omaha Beach figured to factor in the Kentucky Derby's pace. This development also ruins a number of feel-good story lines for the Triple Crown's first leg.

He was to be the Hall of Famer Mandella's first starter in the race in 15 years. The colt's owner, Rick Porter, purchased his star horse after his cancer went into remission. And Mike Smith, who rode Justify to win last year's Triple Crown, opted to remain on Omaha Beach rather than the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Roadster.

Mandella is used to such heartbreak. In 2015, his champion mare Beholder was set to challenge American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic while looking to become the race's second female winner. She scratched two days before the race due to a health issue.

Gary Stevens, Beholder's regular jockey, called Mandella a "hero" upon seeing Wednesday's news. Stevens added in a tweet that, "If things aren’t right pull the plug. That’s why you are who you are."

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