Kentucky Derby contender scratched, trainer suspended in wake of horse deaths at Churchill
The 20-horse field for the 2023 Kentucky Derby suffered another mammoth shakeup on Thursday afternoon.
Just hours after Practical Move was scratched from the race due to an elevated temperature (bringing also-eligible Cyclone Mischief into the field), another horse was removed from the race as part of a Kentucky-wide suspension of his trainer.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s Board of Stewards announced that all horses trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. would be scratched “effective immediately and until further notice.”
This includes Joseph’s Kentucky Derby contender, Lord Miles, the winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in April in New York.
“This action is taken after consultation with Mr. Joseph,” the statement also said.
Additionally, Churchill Downs announced Thursday the suspension of Joseph until further notice.
The suspension prohibits Joseph, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Joseph, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all Churchill Downs-owned tracks.
“Given the unexplained sudden deaths, we have reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses, and decided to suspend him indefinitely until details are analyzed and understood,” Bill Mudd, president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs, said in a statement. “The safety of our equine and human athletes and integrity of our sport is our highest priority. We feel these measures are our duty and responsibility.”
As a result, Japan-bred Mandarin Hero will join the Kentucky Derby field, and represents the third horse with Japanese connections set to race in the 149th edition of the Derby on Saturday night at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Two unusual deaths
Three horses died during the first two days of the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs, two of which were trained by Joseph, a 36-year-old, third-generation horseman from Barbados.
Parents Pride, a 4-year-old filly, and Chasing Artie, a 5-year-old gelding, were the horses trained by Joseph.
Parents Pride was pulled up in the stretch during Saturday’s eighth race then collapsed and died.
On Tuesday, Chasing Artie collapsed and died after the eighth race in similar fashion to Parents Pride.
Churchill Downs spokesperson Darren Rogers released a statement Wednesday saying the causes of death for Parents Pride and Chasing Artie had not yet been identified.
“While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable,” Churchill’s statement said. “We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed. We feel a tremendous responsibility to our fans, the participants in our sport and the entire industry to be a leader in safety and continue to make significant investments to eliminate risk to our athletes. We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well.”
These incidents at Churchill Downs come after the deadliest Spring Meet in several years at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.
Three horses died during the Keeneland Spring Meet, the most in one year at the track since 2019.
A joint statement Thursday from Ray Perry, the secretary of the Public Protection Cabinet and Jonathan Rabinowitz, the chairman of the KHRC, said they supported the stewards’ actions to scratch all horses trained by Joseph.
Earlier Friday, Animal Wellness Action urged Churchill Downs to remove Joseph Jr.’s horse from the Derby. President Wayne Pacelle released a statement after that action was taken later in the day.
“We commend the Kentucky racing officials for suspending Saffie Joseph Jr. for the inexplicable deaths of horses under his care. It will now be up to leaders in the horse racing industry to address the wider set of risk factors that are causing far too many deaths in racing. Racetracks are turning into crash sites.”
Mandarin Hero now in the field
With Lord Miles now scratched, a second horse from the also-eligible list is now in the Kentucky Derby field.
Mandarin Hero will slide into post No. 20 and becomes the third Japanese horse set to race Saturday night, along with Derma Sotogake and Continuar.
Continuar, who was initially drawn into post No. 20, will break from post No. 18 following Thursday’s shakeup in the Derby field.
Cyclone Mischief, which joined the Derby field after Practical Move was scratched, will break from post No. 19.
Mandarin Hero has won four of his six career races, and finished in second place in the other two.
His only previous start in the United States was an impressive one: Mandarin Hero ran second to Practical Move (a Kentucky Derby contender since scratched from the race) in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April in California.
Mandarin Hero (who has 20-1 morning-line odds) was the first horse from Japan to finish in the money in that key Kentucky Derby prep race, and only came in second to Practical Move by a nose.
Trained by Terunobu Fujita and set to be ridden by Kazushi Kimura, Mandarin Hero will seek to become the first Japanese horse to ever finish in the money in the Kentucky Derby.
There is now only one horse left on the also-eligible list: King Russell, who was assigned 50-1 morning-line odds Monday.
When: 6:57 p.m. Saturday
Where: Churchill Downs
TV: NBC and Peacock
Purse: $3 million (Grade 1)
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
For: 3-year-old Thoroughbreds
Kentucky Derby field, with odds:
1. Hit Show (30-1)
2. Verifying (15-1)
3. Two Phil’s (12-1)
4. Confidence Game (20-1)
5. Tapit Trice (5-1)
6. Kingsbarns (12-1)
7. Reincarnate (50-1)
8. Mage (15-1)
9. Skinner (SCRATCHED)
10. Practical Move (SCRATCHED)
11. Disarm (30-1)
12. Jace’s Road (50-1)
13. Sun Thunder (50-1)
14. Angel of Empire (8-1)
15. Forte (3-1)
16. Raise Cain (50-1)
17. Derma Sotogake (10-1)
18. Rocket Can (30-1)
19. Lord Miles (SCRATCHED)
20. Continuar (SCRATCHED)
21. Cyclone Mischief (30-1)
22. Mandarin Hero (20-1)
23. King Russell (50-1)
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