Author: Lindsay Griffin
It’s always tragic when an athlete has prepared for years for a big competition, only to have to bypass it at the last minute. It’s especially crushing when the circumstances that lead to the deferral are out of the athlete’s control.
Most competitions, though, are accessible to a healthy athlete multiple times; an Olympic athlete, for example, may lose out on one iteration of the Games, but compete four years later.
The Kentucky Derby, being a race only open to three-year-old horses, is a different story. A Thoroughbred has only one shot, in their entire life, to win the Run for the Roses. You can check the past results of the big event here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/results
The upside of this is that the athletes, of course, are horses, and therefore cannot be said to care about a missed opportunity. For owners, trainers, and even fans, however, having a horse knocked off the Derby trail can be devastating.
Let’s take a look at a few horses who, for various reasons, attempted the Road to the Roses but are unlikely to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
A son of American Pharaoh, Forbidden Kingdom rocketed to the top of many fans’ and bettors’ Derby lists with an eye-popping seven-length victory in Grade II San Felipe Stakes. Favored to win the Grade I Santa Anita Derby over rivals Messier and Taiba, Forbidden Kingdom led the way into the far turn before stopping badly and finishing last.
Many wondered what had happened to the colt to cause such a poor finish. Observations from trainer Richard Mandella have led his team to believe the loss was due to an issue with Forbidden Kingdom’s epiglottis, a small flap of throat tissue protecting the trachea, or windpipe. Epiglottis problems can lead to horses feeling respiratory distress when running, which could explain the abruptness of Forbidden Kingdom’s backpedaling.
The morning-line favorite for the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach, had a problem with his epiglottis, resulting in a scratch days before the race. While his resulting throat surgery forced a long layoff, Omaha Beach did eventually return in the fall, winning two Grade I sprints and finishing second in the Grade I Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile. Forbidden Kingdom does not have an explicit prognosis yet.
There are some striking similarities between Forbidden Kingdom’s misfortune and that of Classic Causeway, a son of the late Giants Causeway. Both horses are confirmed front runners, both amassed enough points to easily qualify for the Derby even without their final prep, both were heavily bet in their final prep, and both faded to last in said prep.
However, while physical issues provided an easy explanation for Forbidden Kingdom, no such reasons have been given for Classic Causeway’s poor performance in the Grade I Florida Derby. The horse was quietly removed from Kentucky Derby consideration and his immediate future remains unclear.
Pioneer of Medina
Pioneer of Medina broke his maiden and added an allowance win before finishing fourth in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, a performance which looks better in retrospect. Since that race, winner Epicenter went on to dominate the Grade II Louisiana Derby and second and third place finishers Smile Happy and Zandon ran second and first (respectively) in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes.
Pioneer of Medina, a son of the late Pioneer of the Nile, looked like a real contender for the Louisiana Derby, but his chances may have been marred by his antics before the race, which included him getting loose from his connections prior to the race. He finished four and a half lengths behind Epicenter and, crucially, two lengths behind second-place finisher Zozos. With only 25 points, Pioneer of Medina sits at 21st on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and will only qualify for the Kentucky Derby if another horse pulls out of the race.
In Due Time
Simplification and In Due Time provided sire Not This Time with a 1-2 finish in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes. In Due Time’s connections did not run him in the Florida Derby, instead opting for the Grade III Lexington Stakes the following week.
Favored in the Lexington, In Due Time finished third, unable to catch Tawny Port and Major General. Had the Lexington Stakes been a 100-point prep race, In Due Time’s finish would have likely been enough to get him into the Derby gate; however, the Lexington only gave him four points. At present, In Due Time is 22nd on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 24 points, and would need two other horses to defect to gain a spot.