First Mission scratched from Preakness by vet 36 hours before Triple Crown race

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE — Brad Cox-trained First Mission has been scratched from the Preakness on the advice of veterinarians, taking one of the top contenders out of the Triple Crown race 36 hours before post time.

Owner Godolphin and the Maryland Jockey Club announced the scratch, saying vets identified an issue with First Mission’s left hind ankle.

Godolphin USA bloodstock director Michael Banahan said examination of First Mission at Pimlico Race Course “was sort of inconclusive.”

“They thought that he was maybe not quite 100% on his left hind and tried to figure that out, do some diagnostics, something on the track there, which was difficult to do,” Banahan told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “The veterinary scrutiny is very heightened on the big days. Obviously they saw something that they were concerned about. … Brad is conservative and cautious, as well. When they thought that there was maybe a little issue, we said we’d just have to collaborate with them and go with their advice.”

First Mission is set to go to Kentucky to be evaluated further next week by Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington.

“We decided the best thing for the welfare of the horse was not to take any chances and get him evaluated fully and see where we are and see what we need to do to get him back on track again,” Banahan said. “Our utmost concern from an owner perspective, and the same with Brad from a trainer’s perspective is the best care of the horse and the welfare of the horse. And when there was a little bit of a concern there, we felt what we needed to do was pull him from the race and get him evaluated fully and see what we have.”

The removal of First Mission leaves seven horses in the field for the $1.65 million race. He was the early second choice at odds of 5-2 behind only 8-5 favorite Mage, who won the Kentucky Derby.

“You don’t like to see that,” said Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert, who is back at a Triple Crown race for the first time in two years with contender National Treasure. “We still have another day to go. Trainers, we don’t relax until we get the saddle on. Until I get the saddle on the horse, then you can just relax completely. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to wish any bad luck on anyone because we’ve all been there.”

It’s an all-too-familiar feeling this spring after the defections from the Derby left 18 to run instead of the usually full field of 20.

That included favorite Forte hours before, when Kentucky racing officials expressed concern about a bruised right front foot. Forte landed on the state’s vet list, grounding him from racing for at least 14 days, and trainer Todd Pletcher was suspended 10 days for Forte failing a postrace drug test in New York in September.

Racing officials who own and operate tracks in Maryland have increased testing and veterinary review procedures for horses running in the Preakness and other top stakes races this weekend at Pimlico Race Course as preventative measures to limit injuries. That includes multiple independent doctors examining horses, with each one needing to be cleared before racing.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.