Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite for the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, will not run in the race after being diagnosed with an entrapped epiglottis, owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms confirmed May 1.
Porter said Wednesday evening that he was still having trouble comprehending the turn of events.
“We were all devastated,” Porter said of the connections, which also include Racing Hall of Famers Richard Mandella, trainer; and Mike Smith, jockey. “Where it’s really hurting is we made a lot of plans. First of all, Mike Smith and I are good friends. Telling Mike devastated me right away. All my family was coming for the first time for the Derby. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe this had happened, but it did.”
Porter, who on the track was devastated by the breakdown of his filly Eight Belles after she finished second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby and off the track had a two-year battle with cancer that went into remission in 2017.
“You know what, I’ve had some worse things in the last few years and we’re going to go forward and he’s going to be ready to win the big races later on in the year,” Porter said.
The epiglottis is a triangular-shaped cartilage that lies at the base of the airway just in front of the arytenoid cartilages, which cover the airway during swallowing. When an abnormality occurs in this area, it can hinder the performance of horses.
“He’s going to have very minor surgery next week and we hope to have him back racing as soon as late June or early July,” Porter said. Porter said after talking things over with Mandella, Omaha Beach will need some rest but could return to training in a few weeks.
“A little bit of coughing caused us to scope him,” Mandella said. “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 like three weeks. Then we’ll have to figure out a whole new game plan.”
The scratch allows also-eligible Bodexpress to draw into the field of 20 for the Derby off a runner-up finish in the March 30 Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. The son of Bodemeister will break from post 20. All horses outside of Omaha Beach’s assigned post position (12) will move over one position in the starting gate (posts 13-20). Program numbers will not change.
Game Winner, runner-up to stablemate and Derby rival Roadster in the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1) last out at Santa Anita Park, is now the 9-2 choice on oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s revised morning line.
“It’s difficult for the owners and trainers and in the moment I’m sorry for them, but I hope to have a good race with Bodexpress,” trainer Gustavo Delgado said.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was slated to ride Omaha Beach, who won the April 13 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park last out. Triple Crown-winning rider Smith, who also was the regular rider of Roadster, guiding him to victory in the Santa Anita Derby, had a tough choice before committing to Omaha Beach.
“I’m disappointed but I’m really disappointed for Mr. Mandella,” Smith said. “The horse was just doing so good, you hate for it to happen. But we’ll be back. The main thing is, the horse is OK.”
Porter said Omaha Beach had some throat inflammation about 10 days ago that was cleared up with medication. Vets for Spendthrift Farm, which announced the morning of April 30 a purchase of Omaha Beach’s breeding rights following his racing retirement, scoped Omaha Beach Monday and were very happy with how it looked.
Porter said Mandella, “being the great trainer he is,” wanted to take every precaution and had him scoped Tuesday morning. In that exam, the entrapped epiglottis was discovered. Of course there was concern, but Porter said at that point they were still confident enough that the issue could be resolved to enter the Derby.
“[Mandella] got some opinions from people who thought it was not going to be a big deal, so we entered,” Porter said.
At that point, Porter recommended that veterinarian Rolf Embertson at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital examine Omaha Beach. Porter said Dr. Embertson examined the colt May 1.
“He thought that from what Dick Mandella told him, he’d be able to get the epiglottis released and it wouldn’t be a problem,” Porter said. “They tried three or four times and it didn’t work out. He said we’re going to have to do a little bit of minor surgery next week.
“He said, ‘I can assure you it’s not going to hurt him in any way for his career going forward.’ ”