How Omaha Beach Scratch Alters Kentucky Derby Handicapping
Likely Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach was scratched Wednesday afternoon, shaking up the Derby situation dramatically. It's a frustrating and disappointing situation which brings me back to the last time I attended the Derby in person. In 2009, I Want Revenge was poised to be the Derby favorite, but just as we were preparing to leave for the track Derby morning he was scratched, and the race changed dramatically. Mine That Bird came from nowhere to win the race that day. Here's hoping that Omaha Beach's departure doesn't leave such a bizarre result in its wake.
Omaha Beach was scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis. I'm no more of a veterinarian than you are, so we won't get into serious detail. Basically, though, it means that his throat has become obstructed and that he will struggle to breathe while exercising until he has a simple procedure. It's not a major problem by any means, but he will miss about three weeks of training after the treatment. That means that he will miss his shot at all three Triple Crown races.
Besides being a serious setback for the connections of this colt, and a sad development for a colt who deserved better, this development will have an impact on the race in several ways. Here's a look at four of the bigger ones for bettors:
The impact is significant: Omaha Beach was a deserving favorite. He has won three impressive races in a row, and two were on off tracks, so he would have been well positioned if the less-than-perfect weather forecast holds. He was going to be a factor in the early pace, and he had the talent to come out on top. I was planning to try to beat him, so he was not going to be part of my selections, but that was a risky play that was nerve-wracking. With him out, and with the laughably outclassed Bodexpress in in his place, the field got considerably softer, and the impact of the departure is about as significant as we could see in this race.
Baffert is in very good shape: Bob Baffert was already in pretty good shape to add a sixth Derby win and 16th Triple Crown race win. But with this departure, things got much rosier. He will now very likely have the three favorites in the race, with Game Winner currently just ahead of Improbable and Roadster in the morning line. The field is still deep. However, when the biggest threat disappears, things obviously get easier. For bettors, there is good news. While a considerable amount that would have been bet on Omaha Beach will now be bet on the Baffert trio, there is not yet consensus on which of the colts is going to be a public favorite. We should see attention spread fairly well between them, which means that the odds on all of them are likely to be higher than they would be if they were the only Baffert horse. That's good news for both bettors who are backing them to win and those who are looking elsewhere but will throw one or more into their exotics.
Mike Smith is the odd man out: You have to feel bad for Mike Smith. Fresh off of a historic Triple Crown win last year, the guy had his choice of riding Omaha Beach or Roadster. He chose the former, which was a fine decision - though one I was surprised he made. With the late scratch, all the saddles have been filled. And though a change could technically be made, it very likely won't happen. So, one of the best big race riders of all time will be on the sidelines.
Early pace situation even murkier: I was expecting Omaha Beach to have a big say in what the race looked like for the first half mile. He was outside of all the other potential early speed horses, so he was poised to make a statement. And because of his talent and stature, and because Smith was aboard, he was poised to be the alpha horse in the early stages. Other horses would have been very aware of where he was and what he was doing, and they would have likely been reactive to him. His presence probably ensured a more reasonable pace. Now we will likely see War of Will go for the lead, with Maximum Security and perhaps Vekoma pushing him and others looking to be in the mix - especially if the track is off, because up front is the place to be on a sloppy track. In my eyes it feels like the absence of Omaha Beach makes a faster pace more likely than without him. And unless a horse manages to run away with the race, which I am not expecting, that is better news for Baffert's runners and for Tacitus.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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