The lastest victim: trainer H. James Bond.
Bond is one of the sport's top-level trainers but has never had a Kentucky Derby starter. Among other things, Bond didn't want to come to the Derby unless he felt he had a horse with a legitimate chance. This year for Saturday's 128th running of the Kentucky Derby, he felt he had that horse in Buddha, a lightly raced son of Unbridled's Song who won the Wood Memorial in his last start. The colt was installed as co-second favorite in the original, 20-horse Derby field.
When Bond arrived at the Churchill Downs stable area at 5 a.m. Friday, he found Buddha favoring his left front leg. With tears in his eyes, Bond scratched Buddha from the race.
"A preliminary look shows more of a foot (injury), possibly a bruised foot," he said. "We are going to do what's in the best interest of the horse and wait for another day. It is very disappointing for my clients and myself. But Buddha will have another day."
Jockey Pat Day had been scheduled to ride Buddha for his 19th consecutive Derby ride. He later took over from Corey Nakatani aboard Blue Burner, keeping the streak alive. But even before he picked up the substitute mount, Day said he felt bad for Bond.
"Jimmy was beating himself up this morning, running everything through his mind," Day said, "what he could have done, what he should have done, what he didn't do. But the bottom line is that he covered all the bases. Whatever has happened was beyond his control, in spite of his paying so much attention to every detail."
The situation is nearly identical to the one that affected A.P. Indy in 1992. A.P. Indy came down with a bruised foot on the morning of Derby Day and was scratched. He went on to have a highly successful career on the track and now is a top stallion.
Buddha was to have started from the No. 10 post position. With his scratch, all the horses to his inside will move out one gate, leaving an empty starting gate stall nearest the rail.
Another mishap Friday morning delayed exercise for a few Derby horses. Because of a breakdown not involving a Derby horse, the track was closed for training for about a half hour around 7:30 a.m., leaving Blue Burner and longshot Derby contestant Wild Horses standing around.
"I actually think it was good for him," exercise rider Judy Nicks said of Blue Burner. "He had to stay out there and stay calm and he did it. He was good with it, really good."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Wild Horses "handled it fine and there weren't any hassles."
Buddha would have been one of the betting favorites on Saturday. Other highly regarded contenders had less eventful days Friday. Morning-line favorite Harlan's Holiday, winner of the Florida Derby and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in his last two races, galloped a mile and half.
"Everything has been going great," said trainer Ken McPeek. "We just have to get a good trip."
Came Home, who had been listed as co-second favorite with Buddha, also galloped a mile and half and trainer Paco Gonzalez said he will jog again on Derby morning. "He's feeling so good, we have to do something with him in the morning," the trainer said.
Godolphin Racing's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, arrived at Churchill Downs from England on Friday morning to look in on Essence of Dubai. The colt ran in California last year but has trained in Dubai this year, winning the UAE Derby in his last start. That race this year was lengthened to the Derby distance of 1 ¼ mile.
"I think this is our best chance," Suroor said. "I feel he is the best horse we have brought over here. Others had run the 9 furlongs in Dubai before coming here. He has run 10."
Godolphin, owned by the ruling family of Dubai, has won most of the world's top races but hasn't come close in the Run for the Roses.
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