May 2 (UPI) -- Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite, was scratched from Saturday's Kentucky Derby after an examination found a throat problem.
The decision late Wednesday leaves trainer Bob Baffert with the three top picks on the morning line in Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster. And it clears the way for the only also-eligible entrant, Bodexpress, to move into the No. 20 gate for the 145th Run for the Roses.
Trainer Richard Mandella, who was seeking his first Derby win, announced the decision late Wednesday.
"A little bit of coughing caused us to scope him and found an entrapped epiglottis," Mandella told Churchill Downs communications staff. "We can't fix it this week, so he'll have to have a procedure done in a few days and probably be out of training like three weeks. So then we'll have to figure out a whole new game plan."
Only a day earlier, Mandella was on Cloud Nine after his Arkansas Derby winner drew a comfortable No. 12 gate for Saturday's race.
The misfortune also leaves arguably the best U.S. jockey, "Big Money" Mike Smith, without a Derby ride. Smith had his pick between two regular mounts -- Omaha Beach and Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster. He opted for Omaha Beach.
Before the throat issue was detected, Omaha Beach had a normal morning on the Churchill Downs backstretch, galloping 1 3/4 miles, having a bath and greeting visiting elementary school students. A delegation of veterans, noting the implications of his name, was due for a Thursday morning meet-and-greet.
"Good as ever," Mandella said of the morning's proceedings.
Baffert's trio occupied the second, third and fourth spots on the Churchill Downs morning line before Omaha Beach was ruled out. Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia revised the line to make Game Winner, last year's 2-year-old champion, the 9-5 favorite. His stablemates, Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster and Arkansas Derby runner-up Improbable, were pegged at 5-1.
Florida Derby winner Maximum Security, a $16,000 claimer earlier this year, is 8-1 on the line with all others at double-digit odds.
But Baffert, seeking a sixth Derby win, said the odds don't matter once the gates open.
This year, he said, "reminds me a little bit of the Silver Charm Derby. You had a lot of good 3-year-olds in there and whoever gets the trip is going to win it." Silver Charm won it for Baffert in 1997.
Trainer Todd Pletcher brought his two Derby starters, Cutting Humor and Spinoff, to the track Wednesday morning for the first time since their arrival in Louisville. Pletcher is in the unusual position of fielding a pair of long shots for the race but said the colts "are in good shape. They've settled in well and they went over the ground smoothly this morning. Knock on wood, our first morning went well."
Like most of the others, Haikal galloped nicely Wednesday morning and his trainer Kieran McLaughlin likely echoed the feeling of most of his rivals, saying:
"We just want to keep him happy, sound and healthy right now."
And that sounded ironic by day's end.
The scratch of the favorite adds another uncertain element to the Derby, already roiled by the prospect of wet weather Saturday.
The weatherman keeps throwing curveballs at Churchill Downs. Last year, the forecast was for showers but an historic downpour drenched the proceedings. This week, the Saturday forecast has gone from rain to sun and back to rain. And the various prognosticators can't even agree.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service predicted "showers likely" with thunderstorms "also possible after 3 p.m.", citing a 60 percent chance of precipitation. The Weather Channel listed a 100 percent chance of rain but agreed about the late-afternoon thunderstorm chances. Accuweather called for nearly 1 inch of rain and a 24 percent chance of thunderstorms.
On the Kentucky Oaks front, morning-line favorite Bellafina also had an easy gallop Wednesday morning but without trainer Simon Callaghan. Callaghan fell on a narrow stairway in his rented house and wound up at a local hospital where he was treated for a dislocated shoulder.
"I'm sporting a sling but I'll be back at the barn tomorrow morning and we'll move ahead," Callaghan told Churchill Downs communications staff. "I know my filly's doing well and that's the important thing."