The 140th Kentucky Derby looked as wide open as any in recent memory following Wednesday's post draw, but parity became even more prevalent Thursday with the scratching of Hoppertunity.
According to Esther Marr of BloodHorse.com, trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that the 6-1 shot will not run at Churchill Downs on May 3:
Per Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal, Baffert decided to play it safe with a hoof injury:
Hoppertunity (left front foot) will be shipped out today. Baffert "didn't feel comfortable" with him running.— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) May 1, 2014
Although it doesn't figure to be a long-term ailment, Baffert didn't feel as though it was worth risking Hoppertunity's health:
"He could be fine tomorrow but I didn't want to risk it. -Bob Baffert on Hoppertunity being out #kyderby— Esther Marr (@BH_EMarr) May 1, 2014
While Hoppertunity will no longer have a shot at running for the prestigious Triple Crown, it isn't outside the realm of possibility that he could be entered in the Preakness Stakes on May 17, according to Gregory Hall of The Courier-Journal:
Hoppertunity was installed as the No. 2 betting line contender at 6-1 behind 5-2 shot California Chrome, per KentuckyDerby.com. With Hoppertunity pulling out of the race, California Chrome figures to become an even heavier favorite, while Wicked Strong will move into that second slot.
Hoppertunity's exit also opens the door for Kentucky Derby alternate Pablo Del Monte to enter the race, although that is far from a guarantee, according to Jonathan Lintner of The Courier-Journal:
Trainer Wesley Ward says no guarantees Pablo Del Monte runs in the #kyderby Saturday because it would mean breaking from the outside post.— Jonathan Lintner (@JonathanLintner) May 1, 2014
With a Rebel Stakes victory and a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby to his credit, Hoppertunity had all the makings of a contender. He also was to be guided by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has won all three Triple Crown races.
Smith clearly felt as though he had a chance to cross the finish line first based on his reaction to the scratch, courtesy of Tim Wilkin of the Times Union:
Hoppertunity's jockey Mike Smith: "I feel like I was just punched in the stomach."— Tim Wilkin (@tjwilkin) May 1, 2014
It is always upsetting to see a great horse removed from the field since so many people put in a ton of work to make Hoppertunity a potential winner.
With that said, Baffert deserves a lot of credit. He could have pushed the envelope for his own personal gain, but he was more concerned about the horse. It is always important to consider the well-being of these horses and not risk their health for the race, so racing fans should expect to see similar situations handled accordingly in the future.
Baffert and Hoppertunity will live to fight another day, and perhaps a strong run in the Preakness or Belmont Stakes can erase the sting of a Kentucky Derby scratch.
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