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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky state veterinarians on Saturday morning scratched Forte, the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, after examining him and finding him unfit to compete. The veterinarians did not give details, but rumors that the colt was unwell had swirled throughout the backside of Churchill Downs throughout the week.
Kentucky regulators had no immediate comment on Forte’s condition. State veterinarians have reason to be cautious at the 149th running of the race after four horses died in six days at Churchill Downs.
Forte was named last year’s 2-year-old champion and had won six of his seven races. He is regally bred, trained by Todd Pletcher, a Hall of Famer. He was to ridden the by the nation’s top jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr.
Now only 18 horses will compete in the Derby.
In 2011, Forte’s co-owner, Mike Repole, had to scratch another 2-year-old champion, Uncle Mo, the day before the race. The colt had come down with a gastrointestinal infection.
“I’m 0 for 7 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 that we can get here. When you do, what happens in the days before the race can be scary. He can get sick or hurt or step on something. You just want to get to the gate.”
In the days before the Derby, the backstretch of Churchill Downs is always rife with rumors and speculation about the well-being of the horses. And Forte was not spared the scrutiny.
The colt appeared to stumble during a Thursday gallop, and the moment, caught on video, was parsed by horseplayers and horse lovers alike.
On Friday, however, Pletcher dismissed the rumors and said Forte was ready to run and that he looked forward to giving the jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. a leg up on Saturday.
“He’s shown up and run well every start of his life, and I wouldn’t expect no different from him,” Pletcher said of Forte.
The fragile nature of thoroughbred racing was apparent with the deaths of four horses in six days at Churchill Downs, including the Derby entrant Wild on Ice, who was euthanized after he sustained a leg injury. Another horse was put down after an injury and two collapsed and died during workouts. Four other Derby horses were scratched, the first time that many horses were taken out of field since 2015.
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