Ky. Derby favorite Eskendereya out with leg injury

April 25, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | The Baltimore Sun

For the second year in a row, the pre-race favorite in the Kentucky Derby has been scratched with a leg injury, another blow to an industry that is still searching for its first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Eskendereya, the chestnut colt who dominated Derby prep season and would have been a 2-to-1 favorite this week at Churchill Downs, was pulled this morning from the Run for the Roses by trainer Todd Pletcher because of swelling in his front left leg.

That leaves the 136th running of America's signature race without its most talented 3-year-old, and probably its best chance at a Triple Crown. Eskendereya won his two major prep races, the Fountain of Youth and the Wood Memorial, by a combined 18 1/4 lengths.

But in his victory at the Wood three weeks ago, Eskendereya wore wraps on his front legs for the first time, a development Pletcher downplayed after the race. On Saturday, after a routine training session, the horse returned to the barn with swelling from his knee to his ankle. Pletcher said he was immediately concerned.

"We were still kind of hoping for a miracle overnight and we didn't get it," Pletcher said during a news conference Sunday morning. "We looked at and worked on it overnight but didn't see any improvement.

"He's too special of a horse to take any chances."

Pletcher, who has never won a Kentucky Derby in 24 attempts, said the call to Eskendereya's owner, Ahmed Zayat, was the toughest phone call he's ever made to an owner. Zayat recently declared bankruptcy, and is being sued for defaulting on a $34 million loan. Pletcher said he waited a day to speak with Zayat, an Orthodox Jew, because Saturday was the sabbath.

"Mr. Zayat took it well," Pletcher said. "He's a pretty emotional guy. He said the horse comes first. He loves the horse. It was not a phone call I wanted to make."

Pletcher said he didn't think the injury was career-threatening, but he would have to "wait and see."

"Without a doubt, this is the best horse we've ever brought to this stage," Pletcher said. "His last two races were as good as any 3-year-old has ever run."

Trainer Bob Baffert, who has saddled three Derby winners, said it certainly looked like Pletcher had one of the horses to beat this year.

"It's all [about] having the right horse. This year, he has the right horse. Eskendereya, that's the kind of horse you need," Baffert said a few weeks ago.

Pletcher will still have several chances to break through and win his first Derby. It's likely that he'll have at least four other horses in the field (Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine, Rule and Super Saver) and he could have a total of six if he decides to enter Interactif, who is battling injuries, and Devil May Care, a filly who has enough graded earnings to qualify.

A year ago, the morning-line favorite, I Want Revenge, was scratched the day of the Derby.

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